<preform>How We Are Hungry, by Dave Eggers; </br>Harold's End, by J T Leroy</preform>

A prot&Atilde;&copy;g&Atilde;&copy; with plenty to learn from his master
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The Independent Culture

Since the publication of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers has wielded considerable influence in the literary world. When he picks out another writer to praise, people jump; he has done this through his own website, by editing the US literary journal McSweeney's, and by founding the related publishing company.

Since the publication of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers has wielded considerable influence in the literary world. When he picks out another writer to praise, people jump; he has done this through his own website, by editing the US literary journal McSweeney's, and by founding the related publishing company.

It's hard not to react against this perceived hipness as you pick up his new collection of stories, which covers everything from two-page domestic "moments" to 60-page African adventures, or his motherly endorsement of his protégé JT Leroy's slim volume, Harold's End. (The preface, afterword, pictures, end-notes and puffs from Nan Goldin, Lou Reed, John Waters and Zadie Smith are almost as long as Leroy's story.) Perhaps he sees in Leroy, whose tales of teenage hustling have won him a cult and celebrity following, a fellow-orphan; A Heartbreaking Work... told of bereavement, and an ageing of the young.

People do seem to fall recklessly in love with Leroy. McSweeney's magazine published the first section of this novella, and literary tittle-tattle in the US - unfounded as far as I know - claims that heavy editing by Eggers actually casts doubt on the technical authorship of Harold's End.

I have to say, after reading through Eggers' stories and then Harold's End, that the latter's opening pages could easily read as an Eggers work. It has a similar rhythm - a similar arterial, self-hugging pump. But then the story settles down into vintage Leroy territory, and a more demotic, dialogue-heavy style than Eggers would ever use.

In the story of a gang of young junkies in San Francisco, we follow Oliver as he acquires a pet snail from a rich man who wants to give him enemas. It's not one of Leroy's best pieces, and is not helped by the ugly paintings by the Australian artist Cherry Hood.

In Eggers' introduction, he claims Leroy as an important writer. Perhaps, to be cynical, one could argue that Leroy is just safe and melodramatic enough for the middle-class audience that Eggers knows so well. He is not a tricky customer like Dennis Cooper. He doesn't frighten the horses.

And what of Eggers' short stories? On form, the man is a very good writer indeed, a fascinating and gifted stylist, though the quality wildly varies. These shining, ghostly tales are full of alienated Americans adrift in Scotland, Tanzania, Egypt and Costa Rica. The characters are essentially brooding, isolated people struggling with fear.

Eggers is a writer who takes prose for a walk; who writes brilliant exercises in tone, rather than accounts of connected events. He is, in the end, a man always writing about himself and his friends. There's a deracinating, de-mineralising feel to reading Eggers, but I was delighted by the zesty way he writes.

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