Thursday, February 1, 2007

New David Wallace Story

Speaking of short stories...David Foster Wallace has a new one, called "Good People," in the latest New Yorker, and it's really excellent. It's short, and very simple--a 19-year-old devout Christian kid is standing in a park, contemplating whether or not he loves the girl he has impregnated. The word "abortion" does not appear, but that's what he's really thinking about.

I've always liked Wallace a lot. It's kind of a shame that his fame accreted around Infinite Jest...not that it's a bad book. Indeed, it's great in many ways, but it's also this big bloated sloppy thing that kind of obscures the incredible clarity that Wallace is so adept at achieving. His eye and ear (especially his ear) are peerless. And maybe more importantly, he is willing--far more than his other metafiction-slingin' contemporaries--to risk sentimentality. He teeters often on the edge of vulnerability and sweetness, and that edge is where he does some of his best work.

This story is right there on that edge. His protagonist gives himself over to love--or, rather, to the possibility that he doesn't know what the hell love is. It'd be sappy if it weren't so clear and true and honest. The prose, as ever, is simultaneously incisive and rambling, as in this bit of scene-setting:

Lane was very still and immobile and looking past the bank at the downed tree in the shallows and its ball of exposed roots going in all directions and the tree's cloud of branches all half in the water. The only other individual nearby was a dozen spaced tables away, by himself, standing upright. Looking at the torn-up hole in the ground there where the tree had gone over. It was still early yet and all the shadows wheeling right and shortening.

Nice. Go give it a look.

1 comment:

TJ said...

I'm glad you see the sentimentality in Wallace's work. Whenever that word or "sincerity" gets mentioned in the same breath as Wallace's work, I always think of his late-80's essay "E Unibus Pluram" on irony in fiction. Nearly twenty years later, that essay is an X-acto knife for dissecting U.S. culture and what it would cost a writer to take risks.