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
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A host of talented narrators and actors—including television actors John Krasinski and Christopher Meloni—deliver nuanced performances of the late Wallace's classic. But it's the author himself who steals the show: his gentle, almost dreamy voice unlocks the elaborate syntax and releases the immense feeling concealed by the comedy and labyrinthine sentences. While the various narrators ably capture the essence of the text, Wallace's renditions of such stories as Forever Overhead and Death Is Not the End are transcendent. Essential listening for Wallace fans and a fine introduction for newcomers. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Oct.)
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