Friday, January 11, 2008

DFW in Harper's

Just a brief post tonight to signal my noticing of this new David Foster Wallace thinger in the Readings section of the new Harper's. It's labeled a "scene" and also "from a work in progress," and reads kind of like a truncated long short story.

I like it. This is sort of meaningless, as I basically like all of Wallace, even the things I don't like. He is one of those artists--like the Coen Brothers or The Flaming Lips--whom I appreciate on a very deep, more or less permanent level, and I forgive him for all the sucking he needs to do in order to produce something really good.

This does not suck, but it could be filed in the same drawer as the Junot Diaz and Jhumpa Lahiri stories I was complaining about a couple weeks ago--it is doing its thing in overly familiar territory. But there's something about Wallace's territory--the arena of scary, squirrely little mental tics and unhealthy but irrepressible impulses--that seems bottomlessly valuable to me. This piece is a monologue, on the part of a (very echt-Wallace) awkward and pedantic office worker, about his relationship with, and fear of, a colleague's baby. And at the end--which we can safely presume is not really the end--the baby starts talking to him like an adult. It's rather creepy--the talking baby may represent new territory for Wallace. We'll see.

What's your take on Wallace? There have been times I thought maybe I was tired of his schtick, and then whammo, he once again writes something amazing. I don't know if this is it. It certainly has something going on, though.


rmellis said...

I would like him to do a not-crazy, not-1000-page novel. If he could write a novel that works like his non-fiction, he'd be one of my favorite writers.

jrlennon said...

Did you read The Broom of the System? That was a normal length novel, correct? I don't remember being too wild about it back in the day.

I still think he's best as an essayist, but he remains one of my favorite fiction writers.

Anonymous said...

My take on Wallace? I think he's a very talented writer who takes (or took) too many drugs. Yes, if his fiction could work as well as his nonfiction, I'd probably love him. But as it is, I find myself looking too hard for only small glimpses of brilliance (ever read the story "Forever Overhead"?).

Dusty said...

Infinite Jest is probably my most favorite novel, but I agree that while I think I love everything DFW writes with the same kind of unquestioned love I have for my siblings, I've been looking for a while for something more. Like another novel. Oblivion had some great moments—I think the title story is the best "and then I woke up" story ever written—but the book on the whole and that last Christian-y thing he had in the New Yorker were pretty flat, I thought.

Haven't read the Harper's piece yet, but if it's an excerpt maybe it's from a novel maybe. That would be nice, I don't care how long it is.

jrlennon said...

I actually dug the thing in the New Yorker--click the DFW tag, we posted about it back in the day. It never struck me as "Christan-y" in the sense that it had some kind of message or moral agenda...rather it was a straight character piece about a religious kid. Wallace really gets into the popular American frame of reference, as a subject...I think he likes to find the real strangeness behind conventional ways of being. Which is perhaps why I like him so much.

As for drugs...I dunno if that's where his peculiarity comes from. I mean, I don't know him really, has he written about taking a lot of drugs? I'm always wary of that as an explanation for anything. Stoners often write to my bandmate, Jim, whose solo music is very spacey and weird, telling him how they TOTALLY KNOW he was TOTALLY HIGH when he wrote it...when in fact he's a very straight guy.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that was kinda lame of me to write that drug comment. I based that on hearsay and the fact that he wrote Infinite Jest in only three years, which makes me think cocaine. But it does annoy me when people credit creativity to substances, so I'm not sure why I did.

jrlennon said...

Too annoy yourself, of course! ;-)

1000 pages in three years is totally doable IMHO, if you can sustain your interest that long. That would be the challenge, for me.

jrlennon said...

TO, not too. Good God.

max said...

I finally got to the New Yorker fiction issue you reviewed previously.
Of Junot Diaz’ story, “Alma,” you wrote, “It ain’t bad.”
I read it yesterday.
It’s terrible! Three columns of worthless posturing. No character or situation of any significance emerges. Diaz just does his Dominican shtick again. And this smutty juvenilia was written by a 40-year-old man?
Harold Ross and William Maxwell must be spinning in their graves.
Here’s what’s happening: We’re in the middle of a Hans Christian Andersen story, except nobody is calling out that the emperor has no clothes.
Well, some are, but for various reasons their voices make no impression. The emperor goes striding ahead, naked as a jaybird.
As for Wallace, I tried to read Broom of the System but didn’t get far. I classify him with Gaddis and Barth and Pynchon and the other long-winded ones who indulge in obscurity. My reading, since I was a boy, was for pleasure. It shouldn’t be hard labor. I suspect that people who say they enjoy these writers want to impress others with how smart they are.
(I just LOVED Finnegans Wake! I read it last night and laughed my head off.)

ed said...

I agree, John, about forgiving him all his suckiness to give him the room to rock out, but I'm still waiting for something in fiction from him as good as The Girl With Curious Hair. (His essays, like Rhian said, are a different set of hallucinations.)

jrlennon said...

I thought "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men" was as good as "Girl With Curious Hair." But I agree, Ed; I feel like he's reaching...reaching... for something that he can't quite touch. I do admire his willingness to keep reaching.

I met him once and really liked him. He was, at the time, surrounded by like 14 beautiful women wearing evening gowns.

aos said...

Liked Broom of the System quite a bit. I don't know exactly why but Wallace seems to reside in the same place in my brain as William Vollmann and to a lesser extent Jonathan Franzen. The Vollmann might be because both seem to straddle the genres.

Love thinking about him surrounded by the begowned.