I read David Foster Wallace's The Girl With Curious Hair when I was still in college, in 1989 or so. I remember thinking it was interesting, but coldly experimental, and that I was going to go on-board as being anti-David-Foster-Wallace. Even in those early days, it was clear that he was a thing people were going to be for or against. And it felt personal, too: I decided I didn't like DFW, the guy, because I didn't like what I thought he was doing with fiction. Which was showing off.
Then Infinite Jest came out and just reaffirmed my opinion -- the longest book ever! What a show off! I tried to read it, but couldn't get past the cute year names.
But then over the years I read little bits and pieces of his work, including his essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," which is about going on a cruise and is one of the funniest things I've ever read, but also intimate and thoughtful and only slightly show-offy. All of his non-fiction is like this: rambling, inquisitive, and self-consciously brainy. Even his essay about Tracy Austin.
The impression I have when reading DFW's fiction is that it tangles you up and leaves you hanging in a sterile, literary space, while his non-fiction takes you to a real place. His essays give you the feeling (though it might not be true) that you're getting to know a person named DFW who is a thoroughly entertaining fellow; meanwhile his observations are surprising and enlightening.
This pertains somewhat to the latest story, Good People, from last week's New Yorker, even though it's not even the least bit experimental and has been described by other bloggers as being kinda post-ironic, or something. I had the interesting experience of falling asleep while I was reading the last page, and dreaming up an ending, and reading the real one. My dream ending was a political one - that the boy in the story realized he could really have no opinion about the abortion because he was a boy.
And maybe that's why I didn't like the story, ultimately, though I do like DFW and his rambling brain, these days. Because I'm tired of abortion-from-the-boy's-point-of -view stories. It's a legitimate literary experience, of course. But.
Is it too sweeping to observe that there are fewer abortion stories from the female point of view? I've certainly read plenty of abortion memoirs by women, but not so many short stories. Is it because the fictive voice lends itself so well to distance and "watching the other" -- because fiction is so much about mystery?