New York Magazine

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Truly Heartbreaking


To be your own most famous and enduring character is the fate of any talented memoirist; to escape it is how you prove yourself as a novelist. Whether this prompted Eggers’s decision to rework the material as fiction is something only he can answer—whatever the reason, the results are stunning. What Is the What is a portrait of a character that forces us to examine our world and ourselves, and how our struggle for identity is more of a collective battle than we’re often willing to admit. For all the bleak territory covered, the novel is also a reminder that remembering is both a form of sacrifice and salvation. To forget, Valentino says, “would be something less than human.”

What Is the What
By Dave Eggers. McSweeney’s. 386 pages.


Current Issue
Subscribe to New York

Give a Gift