I’ve been wanting to read David Foster Wallace for a long time and finally read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I’m not going to lie. This isn’t an easy read and there were times when I wanted to throw the book across the room. This is no ordinary collection of stories and reviewing David Foster Wallace is intimidating in itself. He has an impressive intellect and a virtuoso command of language. And truthfully, that’s what keeps you going. Just when you think you’ve had enough of his linguistic experimentations or his penchant for pursuing the darkest corners of human nature with mathematical precision, you find yourself picking up the book (from wherever you’ve thrown it) and reading on.
And yet, there are stories in this collection that are quite simply beautiful, for example “Forever Overhead” which over the course of 11 pages renders in almost film-like quality, a few moments of a 13-year-old boy’s life, as he climbs the diving board at the local pool or “Death is Not the End” which in fewer pages perfectly captures the absurdity and the human-ness of a Nobel Laureate poet as he lounges in a speedo by his kidney-shaped pool. In “The Depressed Person” a topic with which Wallace is quite familiar, he uses his technical linguistic virtuosity to take us on a clinical ride with his extremely depressed character. The story is replete with long and I mean really long footnotes in tiny print making the ride even longer and more frustrating. By the end of the story you never want to see or hear from this character again. You might even have thrown the book across the room(again) at this point. And maybe this is Wallace’s point.What keeps you going is his ability to follow an idea or a thought almost like a fox hound to its natural end. He gets you right inside of the character and doesn’t let you go.
There is a story (if you can call it a story) in the section called Brief Interviews with Hideous Men that I thought was brilliant. This whole section is musings by men who are all answering a question from someone we don’t know and neither do we know the question. All of these Q & A’s are a bit crazy mainly because these men are ‘hideous’ men who muse out loud about things like sex and the pain they have inflicted on others as a result of it. It ain’t pretty but it does take you on a ride in their demented selfish inner worlds. The story or piece I enjoyed in this section was about a man whose father spent his life working as a toilet valet in the men’s room of a wealthy establishment. Wallace’s precision with language and thought painted a perfect portrait of this man, the men he served and the disgust his son had for him.
Wallace gets quite experimental in some sections, so much so that truthfully, I didn’t even try to read those stories. I’ll let the literary adventurers take that on. So who would like this book? Well, I think this book is quite funny in many ways. Wallace looks at human mal-adapters and applies his considerable linguistic and philosophical talents to painting a portrait of the ugly side of human nature. A great example of this is the story “On His Deathbed Holding His Hand” a rant from a dying man on his life-long hatred for his only son. At the end you want to throw the book. But not too far.