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.