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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men: Stories Hardcover – May 28, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

Some of the 23 stories in Wallace's bold, uneven, bitterly satirical second collection seem bound for best-of-the-year anthologies; a few others will leave even devoted Wallace fans befuddled. The rest of the stories fall between perplexing and brilliant, but what is most striking about this volume as a whole are the gloomy moral obsessions at the heart of Wallace's new work. Like his recent essays, these stories (many of which have been serialized in Harper's, Esquire and the Paris Review) are largely an attack on the sexual heroics of mainstream postwar fiction, an almost religious attempt to rescue (when not exposing as a fraud) the idea of romantic love. In the "interviews," that make up the title story, one man after anotherAspeaking to a woman whose voice we never hearAreveals the pathetic creepiness of his romantic conquests and fantasies. These hideous men aren't the collection's only monsters of isolation. In "Adult World," Wallace writes of a young wife obsessed with fears that her husband is secretly, compulsively masturbating; in "The Depressed Person," one of Wallace's (rare) female narcissists whines that she is a "solipsistic, self-consumed, endless emotional vacuum"Athis, to a dying friend. If MacArthur Fellowship-winner Wallace's rendition of our verbal tics and trash is less astonishing now than in earlier work (Infinite Jest; A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again), that is because it has already become the way we hear ourselves talk. Wallace seems to have stripped down his prose in order to more pointedly probe distinct structures (i.e., footnoted psychotherapy journal, a pop quiz format). Yet these stories, at their best, show an erotic savagery and intellectual depth that will confound, fascinate and disturb the most unsuspecting reader as well as devoted fans of this talented writer. Author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (May 28, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316925411
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316925419
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Foster Wallace wrote the acclaimed novels Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System and the story collections Oblivion, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Girl With Curious Hair. His nonfiction includes the essay collections Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and the full-length work Everything and More.  He died in 2008.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 87 people found the following review helpful By The Gooch on December 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
"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.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Mogendorff on July 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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84 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Mike Stone on July 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
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.
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