now reading: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace
The great thing about reading Infinite Jest first is that now everything else by DFW is a piece of cake. (What a strange cliche, by the way.) Brief Interviews With Hideous Men has many Jest-like digressions, bizarre subjects, and footnotes, but it is a tiny fraction of the length and commitment of Infinite Jest. I don't know that I would do Infinite Jest again right now, or ever, and I wonder if I had read Brief...Hideous... first if I would want more of him or not.
David Foster Wallace was really smart. This is part of what makes me give his books the benefit of my doubt a few times, when I could just as easily close them and walk away. I even stick with his writing about awful, just awful subjects, like torture and excrement. However, he still pisses me off when I get to those awful parts of his books. It's like if, say, Martin Scorsese or some other fantastic, creative, intelligent, visionary film director spent his time making nasty porn -- it would be such a waste. And weak.
As my devoted fans know, Brian and I read Infinite Jest in the first half of 2008. Reading that book takes a lot out of you. But the one thing with which I decidedly left that book was a sense of the creative genius and the regular-ol-life genius of DFW. I wanted to urge him to use his powers for good (99% of Jest) instead of evil (the awful animal-torture passage), not that my opinion would matter to him. I wanted him to not be like a playground bully, or a druken frat boy, or a coked out partier on a three-day binge, who has to take his show-offy antics one step too far, and tarnishes his powerful persona in the process by revealing that he is as capable of foolish mistakes as the rest of us.
And then, in September of 2008, he committed suicide, an act which sort of proved my point. Just when a reader thinks DFW has outsmarted us all, he succumbs to the same bullshit he had previously so fabulously deconstructed - we thought.
This is what I am experiencing all over -- and over and over -- as I read Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. It's a collection of experimental "short stories," wide-ranging tidbits with some recurring themes, tangents stacked upon tangents, incisive societal commentary presented in an entertaining fashion that fears no taboo, and utter brilliance marred by the occasional misstep when the taboo-busting for taboo-busting's sake defeats its own purpose. I think I like DFW, I think I want to read more of his writing, then I think that no, I've had enough; then I remember that we won't get anything new from him because he chickened out of facing this life and I become furious.
DFW's mind seems to have grappled with or be able to grapple with every problematic, frustrating, or amusing aspect of our post-modern world, until you remember that he bailed out. Suicide is a desperate act. DFW's writing has you convinced that he was way too above ever being desperate. What a joke. What a damn shame, that the curious mixture of admiration and disgust has to be tainted now by pity.