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on December 26, 2000
"Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" is the sort of collection that comes out only after an author has already achieved a reasonable amount of fame and success. It is a book where an author who has received critical praise for previous works can sell a book primarily on the value of his name, not necessarily on the quality of its contents. This isn't meant to imply this book is of no value or is even a bad book. In this reader's opinion, a good 70% of the stories in this work are worthy of publication. It is the other 30% or so that I question whether or not would be deemed deserving of publication if they didn't have David Foster Wallace's name attributed to them as the author.
The stories dealing with the self-absorption and egocentrism of our current therapy & self-help-filled age are both hilarious and frightening. In "The Depressed Person" a woman gets so wrapped up in her own depression that she actually looks at a friend's bout with cancer as a benefit, assuming that her friend, now free from the burdens of having to work, has little better to do with the last months of her life than listen to the sob stories of the title character. Another story concerns a woman so worried about her own sexual ability that she actually is relieved to find out her husband is a porn addict, thinking it means her own fears of sexual inadequacy are unfounded. Sometimes, though, the jokes die out long before the story ends. Towards the end of the book there is a story about a father filled with resentment towards his son, due to the fact that having the son around caused the father to have to share the attention and affection of his wife. What starts off as a funny tale of selfishness and jealousy soon begins to resemble one of those bad "Saturday Night Live" sketches where the same "funny the first time you heard it" joke gets repeated over and over again ad nauseam. . The title pieces, the "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men", which are interspersed throughout the book, are the collections strongest. They provide an insightful look at misogyny and the distorted logic used by many men to justify their poor treatment and attitude towards women. Two men in these interviews, while acknowledging the rape is always undeserving, still try to argue that is can build character in the victim. One man rationalizes his bizarre and deviant sexual behavior by arguing that he never heavily pressures any woman to participate. One man brags to another how he was able to use a woman's fragile emotional state as a tool in his sexual conquest of her. I have to tip my hat to Wallace, he had me absolutely in stitches with the "Brief Interview" about a young man who goes insane after contemplating the drastic universal implications of his sexual fantasy (a fantasy involving the temporary stoppage of time, a la Samantha from "Bewitched").
As a reader, I can deal with, and even enjoy some of Wallace's eccentricities (his constant, but almost always entertaining footnotes, his concluding one story with a plot outline for the remainder of the story instead of the ending itself). At times, though, you almost want Wallace's IQ to drop a few points, because he can occasionally get too clever for his own good. For the life of me, I couldn't tell you what the stories "Church Not Made with Hands" or "Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko" are supposed to be about. I am willing to accept the possibility these stories were simply over my head, however, Wallace would be wise to realize that the quality of a story does not increase in direct proportion to how few people understand it. There is more than enough good stuff in this book to make it worth recommending, but I wouldn't worry too much about reading it all the way through. The few stories that don't seem promising at the outset don't get any better as they go on.
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on July 4, 1999
I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and reward of Infinite Jest (it took a couple of months to get through, and the next book I read took around 2 days) as well as The Girl With Curious Hair, but never got to grips with A Supposedly Fun Thing, so I was uncertain about how much I would enjoy these Brief Interviews. However, almost all of these stories (the exception being Tri-Stan) had me rapt, they were so brilliant. True there is a lot of repetitiveness, only just on the right side of excessive, but in for instance The Depressed Person it served to heighten the endless reworking of the person's fears. Plus I knew this wasn't going to be an easy read, although I found it to be a breeze compared to Infinite Jest.
One thing I've noticed has been missing from the reviews of this has been Wallace's simply awesome use of words. I love the way the words in the story fit exactly as they should, not to say that there aren't surprises and loops where I couldn't help but laugh at the audacity. But in the interviews themselves it's so easy to imagine a real person speaking what's written, the way they're interrupted and interrupt themselves. What's also impressive in the interviews is the lack of words from the interviewer, which I found forced me to concentrate more on the book, and gave me the fun exercise of thinking of the questions; and that only in the last shocking interview do we get anything of the interviewer's persona. And I suppose even Tri-Stan's wordplay was entertaining, although for me it was too long and rambling; Wallace's stories generally work best for me when they're more condensed. This is one book I can't wait to re-read.
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on July 11, 2001
A "brief" history of my relationship with David Foster Wallace's oeuvre is necessary, before I discuss the book in question:
I devoured "The Broom of the System", finding its characters, situations, and storytelling unique and enthralling. Although I was upset by it's ending (or lack thereof), I assumed it would be a good warm-up for "Infinite Jest". Wrong! So far, I've made two passes at that behemoth tome. The second time I even made it to page 200 before stopping in frustration. So when approaching "Brief Interviews", I was hoping for more "Broom" than "Jest". Wrong!
In reading "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" one notices the extent that Wallace fancies himself the ultimate postmodern author. If you were to describe to me the style he uses here, I'd have to say: "Wow, what a neat idea! Challenge and frustrate the reader with unreadable prose, paragraphs that go on for pages and pages without a break, and endless footnotes that go on in infinite detail about the same mundane topic discussed in the body of the text! Genius!"
That's all well and good in theory, but it's a bitch to read. In this book Wallace uses his vast vocabulary in such a way that you'd think it would disappear if not exercised constantly. He even goes so far as to make up new words to try out. In one piece here he twice uses the word 'weeest', not because it is a more precise adjective than 'wee' (as in "...hours of the morning") but because its three-consecutive E's make it look exotic. It's style winning out over substance. And those paragraphs! They're endless. Try holding your breath for five minutes, and you'll know what it's like wading through a DFW paragraph. I asphyxiated on more than one occasion. Especially when those marathon paragraphs were made up of but a single sentence. As for the footnotes, sometimes they added substance to the piece, but more often than not they were merely distracting. One piece in particular actually had more text in the footnotes than in the main body. I was flipping back and forth like a madman trying to figure out what I was supposed to read next.
But the biggest peeve I had was his insistence on leaving the reader hanging. There are no payoffs here. The pieces don't end; they just stop. Sometimes I thought they could have gone on interminably, but instead Wallace decided to quit at some random point. After wading through twenty or so pages of philosophical ramblings and long-winded discussions, a punchline would have helped make me look forward to the next piece. As it is, I didn't.
I must say, though, that I wish I had Wallace's talent. That's not to say that I would use it the same way he does but it would be nice to have it there when I needed it. He seems to be constantly involved in a game of showing it off. His style is self indulgent to the nth degree. "Let's see how cool I can be," he seems to be saying. "Let's see how far post-modernism can stretch." The odd thing is that Wallace is willing to admit to this fault in an interesting way. Witness the first line in the last sub-chapter of the piece titled 'Octet': "You are, unfortunately, a fiction writer." He puts this (ironic) hindrance on the reader's shoulder. But as the piece moves along, it becomes apparent that he's constructing a meta-fictional rebuke of the sub-chapters that appeared before this one. He rips their intentions and their techniques to shreds. Ad infinitum. It's a great bit of self-referential (dare I say) theatre; the post-modern writer attacking his own post-modernism, in a hyper-post-modern way. It's enough to make the reader's head spin. Mine did.
There are a couple of other pieces here that really hooked me. "Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko" is Wallace at his most fun. Using contemporary cultural objects as a new language, punning mercilessly (e.g. a line describing University of Southern California cheerleaders as "attendants at the Saturday temple of the padded gods Ra & Sisboomba" had me chuckling but good), and coining modern day epigrams such as "The Medium would handle the Message's PR", he tells a convoluted tale about modern narcissism. Although the joke runs out of steam halfway through, it's still quite a strong piece. The opening piece, "A Radically Condensed History of Post-Industrial Life" clearly shows Wallace can be a genius when he focuses his gifts. And the title pieces, a quartet interspersed throughout the book, embodies all the problems I've detailed above. But they are still quite powerful in their depiction of modern man's ugliness (or rather 'hideousness').
I admit that there were some pieces here that I couldn't finish, either out of frustration or ignorance. That's probably more my fault than Dave's. Still, he could have helped me out a bit. But he never did. So even though I admired his talents, I didn't like his book.
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on July 19, 2001
I think that a lot of people who have written reviews of this book have missed its point. For example, one person said, "The book is full of random stories, some good, some not so good" but these are not random stories at all. Another said, "Wallace fancies himself the ultimate postmodern author" but has obviously completely missed the point of the book.
This book is a parody (or at least an examination) of post-modernism rather than a post-modern book. If you have read DFW's essays, "E Unibus Pluram", or "Greatly Exaggerated" in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, you will know that DFW is at once repulsed and fascinated by the movement, and although he could be described as post-modern, he is also laughing at it, and wondering about its implications for society.
Brief Interviews is about how neurotic our post-modern society has become, with our obsessive self-examination and ironic distancing of ourselves from everything; and how ridiculous we are for knowing we are doing the wrong thing and doing it anyway, as in "The Depressed Person" and the Hideous Men who know that they are hideous but think that by acknowledging their hideousness it will be somehow less wrong. The Depressed Person's constant telephoning of her friends to ask them if they like her is very similar to DFW's musings on writers wondering if readers will like their books in "Octet", where he writes a final piece explaining everything that he was trying to accomplish in the previous pieces, showing how ridiculous the interjections of authors have become, and why its wrong to always be worrying about what people are thinking of you.
The reviewers who are treating this as a collection of independant short stories are, I believe, missing his point. These are all basically the same story with the same point told in different ways. Right from page one where everyone is worrying if the other people like them, through to the depressed person calling her friends to find out if they like her to DFW's musings about whether reader's will like his fiction, you are being exposed to the same ideas over and over. If you want to enjoy and understand this book, you will have ask yourself a lot of questions and compare everything he says to what he has said before. It's a very funny, thought-provoking book and deserves a very careful reading.
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on October 24, 2015
Wallace was a genius. This is a funny collection. His best works, for me, are his essays: Consider the Lobster and Other Essays,A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments. Of course, at some point, you have to read his magnum opus: Infinite Jest.
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on July 9, 2016
I can't get enough of DFW non-fiction work. It is fascinating and engrossing - he's able to bring readers in to his curiosities, his ruminations, and inner thoughts and richly detailed experiences - all of it infectious.

His fiction however, obviously written by a brilliant mind, remains difficult to enjoy. It feels like homework. Much of the pieces here use structural devices and feel little more than exercises within them.

The "pop quiz" piece stands out to me as an embodiment of both what I love about DFW and found difficult here - as it starts out as a structural exercise and then the writer over takes the work by admitting he was doing exactly that and was unsure it was working or worth it. I ended up having similar thoughts about some of the other pieces throughout the book.
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on October 1, 2015
This is the first DFW I have read. Many of the stories have a soul-stickiness that sicken, amaze, and bewilder. Some seem indulgent. I am grateful to have read this on an electronic device, as I had to look up at least one word per page, on average. Some of these unknown words proved to be DFW creations. I cannot forgive DFW for dissing my favorite author, Kundera, calling him a rhetorician. Yes, Octet might push further than most authors are willing, showing more of the author's personal, incomplete, broken soul, but that doesn't mean that it is superior literature. I prefer polish, even if it is slightly manipulative.
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on December 23, 2014
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men was a decent set of short stories by David Foster Wallace. It's very different from his novels (Broom of the System, Infinite Jest). Most of the stories are about a man's interaction with a woman. Generally speaking, the man is politically incorrect and very blunt about delicate ideas. If this is your first time reading David Foster Wallace you might be offended. If this is not your first time than many of these stories will seem moderate to his previous works.

I think the most important story in the book is 'Octet'. Wallace practically comes right out and asks the reader, "Do you like the work? Do you understand it? Do you know how much time I put into this?" and then proceeds to say that he doesn't even care if you understand it. For the record: I thought the short stories in Octet were pretty bad. The only interesting part of Octet was his confessional.

Brief Interviews is a decent read but more for existing fans of Wallace. If you haven't, go read Infinite Jest! For better or worse that is his legacy.
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on March 22, 2011
This was the second of David Foster Wallace's books that I've read, after Infinite Jest. This is certainly a more accessible tome in comparison, but maintain's Wallace's unique perspective. Much like the man himself, this book is often very funny, and sometimes very sad, but always comes from a perspective of seeking out the humanity in characters where it's not always obvious.

This is obviously a much different book than Infinite Jest, which was a sprawling novel of vast ambition. The short stories, or 'brief interviews,' will sometimes make you laugh out loud, sometimes blow you away, and sometimes leave you scratching your head and shrugging. And in that respect, the two books are very much the same.
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on June 16, 2016
one of best writer's 2nd book. most brilliant man i knew. he killed himself 10 years ago at 50 a victim of severe depression.

his books are all unique. worth a read just for that. read his story and essay collections. genius.
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