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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (David Foster Wallace)

Thursday, 14. June 2012

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a short story collection by David Foster Wallace. A few of those short stories are the titular (longer and shorter) interviews with different men, mostly about the topic of women and sexuality. The different stories often circle around the same topics, like depression/mental illness, loneliness, alienation and sex. That probably sounds really depressing (and it sometimes is) but Wallace has a rather dark and dry sense of humor that also comes into play and keeps it from getting too much.

Not all of the stories are winners for me – some I didn’t get at all, some were kind of meh, but put altogether, Wallace is one hell of a writer. Reading it, I found myself challenged and loving it. I was touched by some of the stories, inspired by others and some would provide endless food for discussion. In short, now I just really want to check out more of his stuff.

You can find more about each of the stories after the jump.

A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life

This story is extremely short (you can read it here in its entirety). I did like it, but mostly it’s just really short.

Death Is Not the End

Basically, this story consists only of a description of a poet sitting in the sun.
It’s strange and weird, but in a good way and the ending is brilliant.

Forever Overhead

A 13-year-old boy celebrates his birthday going swimming with his family and challenging himself to jump off the board into the water.
This story is where I fell in love with David Foster Wallace, or rather his writing. It’s nostalgic and at the same time not all, beautifully written and absolutely evocative (I know people like to use “evocative” a lot when they talk about prose. It’s rarely as fitting as here).

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

The first batch of interviews. A woman interviews various men (her questions are removed from the text though), mostly about sex.
I liked some interviews better than others, but I am very impressed by the way he changed the voices of each character. And I do think that all of the segments are interesting.

Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XI)

This is again very short, but I like his style.

The Depressed Person

A rather clinical, distanced description of a depressed woman and one important question she wants to ask.
This story is difficult. Difficult to read, difficult to understand sometimes, difficult to stand – but so incredibly good. DFW obviously knows what he’s writing about. He is completely inside his character and takes you along for the ride. It is almost scary, but definitely ingenious.

The Devil Is a Busy Man

This story is nice and kinda cute, but its “morale” seems a little old and stale.

Think

I don’t really know what to make of this one. It’s okay though.

Signifying Nothing

A young man suddenly has a flashback of his own father waving his dick in his face when he was a boy. When he confronts his father, he doesn’t get the reaction he expects.
Don’t know what to do with this one either, but I liked it. I liked the narrator, the set-up and I kinda liked the ending, but I would have liked more of a resolution. Scratch that, more of an explanation.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

The second batch of interviews has even more fodder for thought. Especially the two longer interviews – one with a man about his bondage fetish, the other other with a guy talking about how surviving rape makes a woman stronger. I don’t necessarily agree with what the guys are saying but it does make you think.

Datum Centurio

An encyclopedia entry from the future about the word “date.”
This one has funny moments, but it didn’t blow me away. I was mostly preoccupied by the question why women basically aren’t considered as daters, but practically only as datable material.

Octet

A few pop quiz questions about ethical topics that develop into a metafictional exercise.
At first I was little excited about the pop quiz form and he also didn’t have me at first when he started with the meta stuff. But on the last few pages it exploded into greatness. Wonderful.

Adult World (I)

A young wife worries about her husband and their sex life, even though there doesn’t actually seem to be anything wrong.
I liked reading this story and I was completely involved but the ending (which is not actually the ending – see next story) sucked a bit. I wanted to know her epiphany and was completely ruined by the way the story just stopped in the middle. Which can be seen as a good sign (as I was so involved that I cared about it at all) but the end just frustrated me.

Adult World (II)

This is the outline of the second part of the story before it.
I’m torn about this one. On the one hand I got the closure I missed from Adult World (I) and it was really interesting to see how detailed DFW’s outlines are. On the other hand I just wish that he had actually written the story. (And then also included the outline for comparison.) As is there remains a certain amount of dissatisfaction.

The Devil Is a Busy Man

This – much like the first story with the same title – was rather meh. It’s nice, but really not wow.

Church Not Made with Hands

The story of a painter and his wife and their young, sick daughter.
This story blew me away. The prose is almost lyrical and I’m not sure I understood everything, but it was made of pure beauty. I aboslutely fell in love with the way he uses colors. Like

A dead Cezanne does this August sunrise in any-angled smears of clouded red, a blue that darkles.

Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VI)

This is another short piece and by now I’ve realized tat I just need his stories to be a little longer to really love them. This one is another example – there’s nothing wrong with it, but it just isn’t enough.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

This might be my favorite collection of interviews. Especially the interview with the two guys about what women want. That man really knows how to construct an argument. It’s not that I agree with them – not at all, in fact – but I would really like to discuss this with them. The way they smartly say so many things I think are completely stupid – it would be a challenge to argue with them. Mentally discussing this with them was absolutely exhilarating.
The other interviews were also nice, especially the Bewitched thing was fun, but nothing was as inspiring as that last interview.

Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko

A play on the Narcissus myth, set in modern LA. The TV producer Agon M. Nar basically grooms his daughter Sissee to be the most beautiful actress ever.
This story is a bit uneven. Sometimes it is really funny, sometimes it’s exasperating to read. The satire part of it may already be a little tired (it is from the 90s after all), but it does have a good sense of humor. Sometimes I just missed the correct frame of reference and a dictionary. (His vocabulary is amazing.)

On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father Begs a Boon

A dying father talks about the relationship he’s had with his son, who he hated with a passion for taking away his wife.
That story (or scene from a play, actually) really did not work for me. I hurried through it just to get it over with. I just had zero empathy  or understanding for that old cranky dude.

Suicide as a Sort of Present

A look at how a mother’s relationship with her own mother translates to the raltionship with her child (in a pretty bad way).
This one I liked. Not “whoa how awesome” loved it, but liked.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

That was the weakest batch of interviews. It felt too long and just didn’t catch my interest. It’s a pity, especially because I loved the other interests so much.

Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XXIV)

The collection kind of fizzled out with this story. It was just meh. I would have wished for a cooler ending.

Summarising: An interesting, strong collection that is definitely worth a read.

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One comment

  1. [...] Buben / Fiese Männer Director: Ulrich Seidl Based on: David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men Cast: Georg Friedrich, Wolfgang Pregler, Lars Rudolph, René Rupnik, Nabil Saleh, Michael Thomas, [...]



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