Friday, January 9, 2009

David Foster Wallace: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

After seeing a memorial tribute to him in Harpers and reading a few of his essays there over the years, I blogged about that and decided to read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

Wallace's writing is quite impressive. I can't speak for his other books-- and I don't remember much about the essays (aside from enjoying them). But this one was creative and well-crafted, stirring in some places, memorable in many more. His writing is also crass and vulgar in places-- in part, because he's writing about vulgar subjects, and in part, because he decides to go there. So, although I admire his craft, I cannot recommend the book.

The most interesting technique (at least in this book) reflected his ability to "layer" a story, revealing more and more-- but not quite overlapping-- letting the reader into increasing detail and often changing one's perception of the story's characters (in small or pivotal ways). The writing was suspenseful-- in that you suspected "surprises" around the corner, but not knowing what it would be or where he would take you.

He also had some beautiful story lines that drew out irony and wrestled with what it means to be self-conscious. In my three favorite stories, the primary characters were both brutally self-absorbed and blissfully unconscious of their self-consciousness. In "On his deathbed...", Wallace described a father who despised his son-- and the father was and did the same things that he claimed to despise. In "The Depressed Person", he playfully depicted the Catch-22 of someone who struggled with depression of some sort and was unable to interpret anything in a helpful manner. In "Octet", he plays on the self-consciousness of the writer-- dissatisfied with some of his work and not sure what to do with the rest of it (and unable to ask for feedback).

I enjoyed him, but I don't plan to go back.

That said, if anyone can recommend "cleaner" novels from Wallace, let me know.


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