Book Review: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, by David Foster Wallace

Brief Interviews with Hideous MenBrief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Two things:
1) I did not finish this book, and
2) I did enjoy his style, but this book is not for me.

So, if you feel comfortable with those two things, then read on.

I can see why people like, love, and praise David Foster Wallace. Really, I can. But this had to be one of the most trying, boring and tedious collection of stories I have ever read. Ok, check that: that’s hyperbole. The only other book I never finished was this awfully boring and obnoxious piece of writing: The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771). Again, probably interesting to someone, e.g. my ‘Rise of the Novel’ professor, just not me. So, there you have it: David Foster Wallace is in the same unfinished pile as this fella: Tobias Smollett.

Many years ago when I bought this book, I thought it would be a quick introduction to Wallace (have you seen the size of Infinite Jest [1996]?). Well, it was. And I am glad I never purchased Infinite Jest. I’m not going to criticize much, because that will be boring for me and you. And, plus, if you are a Wallace fan, then you probably have heard all the criticism. Too post modern. Too little punctuation. Too many footnotes. WAY too cynical. Yeap. Yeap. Yeap. And, yeap. I think Wallace is an innovator in his use of style, but it’s just not for me. As he puts it in “Octet”: “the cycle is just a cute formal exercise in interrogative structure and S.O.P. metatext” (Brief Interviews 147). Yeap. That’s what this reader got from it.

I think my criticism is fair: I didn’t care about any one of the characters in these stories. At all. And that’s what fiction should be for me: a darn good story. Style should not take precedence, thus sacrificing the narrative. Style should be there, of course, but it should not be intrusive. And Wallace’s style is overtly intrusive.

From what I read, for Wallace, fiction is a vehicle to practice how many ways you can creatively refer to the narrator, or to the person to whom they are speaking. For example, if there are two people talking and you constantly remind the reader who is being referred to, then you are either a) trying to be obnoxiously fatuous, or b) think the reader is incapable of keeping track (see, “The Depressed Person” and “Octet”). I tend toward the former. All this “fourth wall” business and “metatext” stuff is nice, but if I want theory talk, then I’ll go to Fredric Jameson, Jasbir Puar, Theodor Adorno, or Roland Barthes.

I don’t read fiction to have the author didactically explain theory. I read fiction to see the aesthetic practice of theory.

Oh, I gave it one star because that rating is defined as “didn’t like it”. And, well, I didn’t like it.

My read shelf:
Shawn's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)


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