David Foster Wallace made an art of taking readers into places no other writer even gets near. In his exuberantly acclaimed collection, BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN, he combined hilarity and an escalating disquiet in stories that astonish, entertain, and expand our ideas of the pleasures that fiction can afford.
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Amid the screams of adulation for bandanna-clad wunderkind David Foster Wallace, you might hear a small peep. It is the cry for some restraint. On occasion the reader is left in the dust wondering where the story went, as the author, literary turbochargers on full-blast, suddenly accelerates into the wild-blue-footnoted yonder in pursuit of some obscure metafictional fancy. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Wallace's latest collection, is at least in part a response to the distress signal put out by the many readers who want to ride along with him, if he'd only slow down for a second.
The intellectual gymnastics and ceaseless rumination endure (if you don't have a tolerance for that kind of thing, your nose doesn't belong in this book), but they are for the most part couched in simpler, less frenzied narratives. The book's four-piece namesake takes the form of interview transcripts, in which the conniving horror that is the male gender is revealed in all of its licentious glory. In the short, two-part "The Devil Is a Busy Man," Wallace strolls through the Hall of Mirrors that is human motivation. (Is it possible to completely rid an act of generosity of any self-serving benefits? And why is it easier to sell a couch for five dollars than it is to give it away for free?) The even shorter glimpse into modern-day social ritual, "A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life," stretches the seams of its total of seven lines with scathing economy: "She laughed extremely hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces." Wallace also imbues his extreme observational skills with a haunting poetic sensibility. Witness what he does to a diving board and the two darkened patches at the end of it in "Forever Overhead":
It's going to send you someplace which its own length keeps you from seeing, which seems wrong to submit to without even thinking.... They are skin abraded from feet by the violence of the disappearance of people with real weight.Of course, not every piece is an absolute winner. "The Depressed Person" slips from purposefully clinical to unintentionally boring. "Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko" reimagines an Arthurian tale in MTV terms and holds your attention for about as long as you'd imagine from such a description. Ultimately, however, even these failed experiments are a testament to Mr. Wallace's endless if unbridled talent. Once he gets the reins completely around that sucker, it's going to be quite a ride. --Bob Michaels About the Author:
David Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1962 and raised in Illinois, where he was a regionally ranked junior tennis player. He received bachelor of arts degrees in philosophy and English from Amherst College and wrote what would become his first novel, The Broom of the System, as his senior English thesis. He received a masters of fine arts from University of Arizona in 1987 and briefly pursued graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University. His second novel, Infinite Jest, was published in 1996. Wallace taught creative writing at Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College, and published the story collections Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion, the essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Consider the Lobster. He was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award, and was appointed to the Usage Panel for The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. He died in 2008. His last novel, The Pale King, was published in 2011.
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