A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

One of Eggers’s friends. John grew up in the same neighborhood as Eggers in Lake Forest, Illinois, and because their parents were friends, they have known each other for a very long time. Even when they “had less and less to say to each other” in high school, they were “still inextricably tied.” Like Eggers, John is an adult orphan, his mother having died when he was a sophomore in high school and his father having died when John was in college (shortly after Eggers’s father died). Since then, John has had severe depression. In fact, he often threatens to kill himself. After posing this kind of threat one night, Eggers rushes over to his apartment and calls the police. Assessing the situation, the police summon paramedics, who take John to have his stomach pumped at the hospital. At this point, John begins transcending his role as a conventional character in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, speaking directly to Eggers and shaming him for using his story. It later becomes clear that Eggers has chosen to call him John (a fake name) because this was his own father’s name—a fact John resents because he doesn’t want to be used for Eggers’s selfish storytelling purposes. As such, John becomes a representation not only of the grief inherent to parental loss, but also of Eggers’s insecurities and misgivings about writing about the people in his life.
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John Character Timeline in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The timeline below shows where the character John appears in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface to This Edition
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
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...on real people, some of their names have been changed to preserve anonymity. The character John, for instance, isn’t actually named John in real life, but Eggers’s friend asked that his... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Eggers’s friend John gets him a beer. “John is broken and I’ve known him forever,” Eggers writes. Their... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...head home. Upon arriving, Eggers receives a call from Meredith, who tells him their friend John has “been talking to her about ingesting the pills he has next to him.” Frantic... (full context)
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“Maybe he will do it,” Eggers thinks, considering whether or not John is serious about committing suicide. “Maybe this is it. Cannot believe this is me again.... (full context)
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Eggers threatens to call the police, but when he picks up the phone, John tells him in a strange voice to relax. Eggers asks why he’s talking “like an... (full context)
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Sitting down, Eggers asks why John’s so upset, guessing that it’s because he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend. John says... (full context)
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Eggers follows John’s ambulance to the hospital, where he sits in the waiting room and watches Conan O’Brien... (full context)
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...always the core, that can’t be articulated. Only caricatured.” When he’s finally allowed to visit John, he finds him lying on a bed with tubes coming out of his mouth and... (full context)
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Eggers watches John sleep and remembers what he was like as a kid. Then, suddenly, John stands up... (full context)
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Eggers convinces John that he deserves to be able to tell his story. After all, he claims, John’s... (full context)
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John spends three days in a psychiatric ward. When Eggers visits him, he admits he still... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...his friends’ apartment that night, Eggers receives a call from Meredith, who tells him that John is “threatening” suicide again. Distracted by the fact that his mother’s remains are sitting outside... (full context)
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John loves hearing Eggers talk about his morbid fears. Eggers continues, saying, “The thing I was... (full context)
Chapter 11
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John’s depression takes a turn for the worse. He has started vanishing for weeks at a... (full context)
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...you really care about me, outside of my usefulness as some kind of cautionary tale,” John says, “a stand-in for someone else, for your dad, for these people who disappoint you—”... (full context)
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Eggers insists to John that he’s “allowed” to tell these stories. “I am owed,” he says. “You’re not,” John... (full context)
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...he and Toph are at Frisbee, Eggers writes, “Oh I’m not going to fix you, John, or any of you people. I tried about a million times to fix you, but... (full context)