A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was (as the title hints) a little mannered and self-absorbed, but you can forgive Dave Eggers because, after all, he was writing about his parents who died in the same year, the father from lung cancer and the mother, agonizingly, from stomach cancer, when he was just 22.
I read his book just after it came out, and almost dropped it into the bathtub when I realized that his mother, Heidi McSweeney, was a counselor at the Catholic girls’ camp I went to for many years.
I first went there when I was 11 or 12. Someone in my cabin told me you had to have a crush on a counselor (looking back, this seems rather odd, but, as a dutiful Catholic girl, I obeyed), and so I picked out Heidi. She wore Weejun loafers and Woolrich socks; she had short blond hair and scary eyes like blue lasers. She was very tan.
I was afraid to talk to her, but the day I was assigned to her table for meals she told all of us about St. Anne. Every Tuesday before noon you were supposed to pray, “St. Anne, please grant me a special favor,” and repeat it 21 times.
How crazy is this? So crazy that I prayed to St. Anne (not even knowing she was supposedly Mary’s mother) every Tuesday for at least a year.
Dave Eggers probably thought I was crazy too. I wrote to him about how much his mother meant to me, and asked if she’d ever told him about praying to St. Anne. He never answered. No special favors.