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David Foster Wallace: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men


Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

Author: David Foster Wallace

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David Foster Wallace is a real praise magnet. His second novel, the epic Infinite Jest, remains one of the most popular and admired books of the past several years, and at this point, almost as many people have actually read it as purchased it. His subsequent collection of humorous essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, gave would-be readers a more pithy and accessible introduction to the young hero of post-modernism. Even his dual-pseudonymously written piece on an adult-video awards ceremony for Premiere magazine—though still not confirmed, it's almost without a doubt his—attracted the attention of defensive pornographers, who mocked the author's addiction to footnotes in an issue of the trade publication Adult Video News. With novels great and small, an initial collection of short stories, numerous articles, and several essays to his name, Wallace now returns to the short-story form, with mixed but sometimes dead-on results. Brief Interviews With Hideous Men comes across as much a let's-see-what-I-can-do writing exercise as it is a cohesive exhibition of Wallace's prose style. The stories, if they can be called that, range in length from one paragraph ("A Radically Condensed History Of Postindustrial Life") to several pages ("Adult World"), and many offer his distinctly distracting gimmicks, most notably those ever-present footnotes. The title story, for example, is actually a series of one-sided conversations, told entirely as dialogue, while "Forever Overhead" boasts virtuoso long sentences describing the relatively mundane activity of jumping off a diving board. The second part of "Adult World" and the maddening "Datum Centurio," on the other extreme, may as well be written in Morse code, so dense are the technical jargon and Wallace's bizarre shorthand method, respectively. Several stories are about relationships between men and women, specifically sexual relationships, and, though entertaining, the tiny tales take their toll: The characters in this collection, mostly left as anonymous pronouns, are pretty depressing folk. It's ironic, then, that "The Depressed Person" is actually one of Interviews' funnier pieces, its manic asides struggling to keep up with the almost irrelevant story. But it's "Octet," an ingenious, self-reflexive piece that begins as a collection of "pop quizzes," that should make readers' heads spin. In that story, Wallace giddily deconstructs his own style, levying criticism upon criticism on himself, deflating his myth while bolstering his reputation as a master of interior monologue. It's a neat trick, but you might get the feeling that there's not much beyond the technical display of language.