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Oblivion: Stories Paperback – August 30, 2005

3.8 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his best work, Infinite Jest, Wallace leavened his smartest-boy-in-class style, perfected in his essays and short stories, with a stereoscopic reproduction of other voices. Wallace's trademark, however, is an officious specificity, typical of the Grade A student overreaching: shifting levels of microscopic detail and self-reflection. This collection of eight stories highlights both the power and the weakness of these idiosyncrasies. The best story in the book, "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature," assembles a typical Wallaceian absurdity: a paroled, autodidactic arachnophile accompanies his mother, the victim of plastic surgery malpractice ("the cosmetic surgeon botched it and did something to the musculature of her face which caused her to look insanely frightened at all times"), on a bus ride to a lawyer's office. "The Suffering Channel" moves from the grotesque to the gross-out, as a journalist for Style (a celebrity magazine) pursues a story about a man whose excrement comes out as sculpture. The title story, about a man and wife driven to visit a sleep clinic, is narrated by the husband, who soon reveals himself to be the tedious idiot his father-in-law takes him for. While this collection may please Wallace's most rabid fans, others will be disappointed that a writer of so much talent seems content, this time around, to retreat into a set of his most overused stylistic quirks.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Some critics scream self-indulgence, while others lash back with claims of genius. No one denies the verbal wizardry of the MacArthur Grant-winning author of Infinite Jest. And yet Wallace’s prose style lies at the epicenter of the debate. Does his wordiness obscure a lack of substance, or is the key to his intent found in that same verbosity? Reactions to his stories elicited similar controversy. More than one of his boosters notes a welcome turn towards naked emotion, most notably in “Good Old Neon.” Others question his maturity and moral sense, and criticize the unfinished quality of some of the stories. These polarized opinions, however, seem to ensure that Wallace will not fade into oblivion.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (August 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316010764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316010764
  • ASIN: 0316010766
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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It's pretty tough for a writer to balkanize popular opinion the way David Foster Wallace has. It seems that for everyone who views Wallace as a literary genius, there's someone else who thinks he's a self-indulgent bore who appeals only to the pretentious. In truth, Wallace is neither; he's just a writer who takes chances with his work and is apparently willing to accept the occasional failure along with his successes. More a journey than a destination, Wallace's fiction relies heavily on such devices as unconventional narrative structures, punishingly dense and convoluted prose, dazzling verbal trickery, and clinical attention to detail. All that aside, though, Wallace isn't just a showoff, as there's an unmistakable human element to his fiction. Buried among the endless detail of these stories are some moments of profound insight and sympathy for the characters he's created to go with Wallace's innovative style and encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything.

A prime example of all things Wallace is this collection's opening story, "Mr. Squishy," which is about 65 pages long but reads like at least 100. In one respect, this story is an insider's view of the ad industry, complete with descriptions of various market research strategies and examinations of the minutest details of a focus group assembled to test out a new snack cake. On another level, though, the story examines the professional and personal frustrations of its protagonist, a focus-group coordinator who could be a symbol for any number of inconsequential white-collar workers the world over. And of course, there's some trademark Wallace weirdness in the form of a costumed wall-climber with some bad intentions and a highly ambiguous ending that resolves exactly nothing.
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Format: Hardcover
There are some writers who it becomes fashionable to read and then, when they become too popular or widely praised, fashionable to put down. We are in the midst of the recoil that began after Infinite Jest became popular. I think the recoil is probably going to continue (and appears to be continuing in these reviews) because Wallace is a writer whose flaws are so easy to spot, and it's simple to quote sections of his writing and hold them up as everything that's wrong with today's literary writing. His style is frequently bloated and self-indulgent, and if you're not paying attention it's easy to get lost and call all of it nonsense. Sometimes he tries as hard as he can to make you stop paying attention, when he throws in what appear to be irrelevancies or whatever oddity he can come up with to be more original - because god forbid that any of his writing have the taint of old-fashioned conservative storytelling.
This is, unfortunately, only half the truth, because there really are magical moments in Wallace's writing, and just when you're about to get absolutely fed up with him he pulls out something beautiful, or shocking, that for whatever reason stays with you. Even in a two page story like "Incarnations of Burned Children" I went through all of the probable reactions to the stories in this volume: initial interest, confusion with the prose style, impatience, boredom, and then suddenly a moment where the story seems to open up and become incredibly moving.
The story is about a mother accidentally scalding her toddler, and is told in the long clause-filled breathless sentences that Wallace uses - with occasional good taste.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm one of those supposedly clueless readers who thinks that Wallace is an exceptional writer in all senses of the word. I like the fact that his writing shakes you up a little, makes you work for your payoff a little, and breaks the critics' rules.

Sure, you could hand me any snippet from Oblivion without telling me what it was and I could identify his writing style after the 2nd or 3rd abutting dependent clause, but so what? I love his subordinate-within-subordinate-within-subordinate style. It how I generally think and I suspect it's how most of us think. So while critics harrumph, all DFW is really doing is writing in a kind of mental dialect, instead of the processed cheese most writers give us. If it's not as quickly accessible as other writers' narrators' prose, it's more real and incredibly worth the little extra effort it takes to get at what he's saying.

"Good Old Neon" is my favorite. Since the whole story comes spilling out of, ostensibly, Neal's head, DFW has pretty much free rein to use his faux stream-of-consciousness style to its opitmum and he absolutely shines. Few of DFW's characters are ever flat, symbolic, or caracatures, and I think Neal is one of the most fleshed-out DFW has ever come up with. The fact that the listener, the supposed DFW himself, is aware that Neal is his own construct, coming out of his fiction-prone mind as he wonders about his old classmate, doubles the irony. After Neal got done explaining why he did it and what it was like to die, I realized this was one of the most affirming stories I have read by DFW. The ending is incredibly positive and one that only DFW could've come up with; it shows the only way out of Neal's fatal "fraudulence paradox.
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