I read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men some time ago. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea and I had my own struggles through sections of the book which are detailed here. But it’s one of those collections that I am so thankful to have read, parts of which are still with me. For students of language and lovers of modern literature I’d say he is a must read. There is only one David Foster Wallace. I haven’t read enough literature or know enough to be able to say this with any kind of authority but when I was reading him the words ‘ground breaking’ came to mind and I saw for the first time how it was possible to treat language differently and I felt this kind of thrill. I was inspired and excited like I had just discovered something I had never seen before.
So when I had the pleasure of being in Seattle recently I went to the amazing Elliott Bay Bookstore. An entire blog post will be devoted at a later date on the importance of real books, independent book stores, bookstores in general and the importance of the ‘traditional’ publishing process – but for today let’s just say, that one of the treats of meandering through the large collections of books for hours on end is that you see things you might not otherwise notice. And along with a few other books I found David Foster Wallace – The Last Interview and Other Conversations.
There is something poignant about this collection of interviews, particularly the last one which took place shortly before DFW took his own life. You see a cockiness in some of his answers and you also catch glimpses of a man for whom linguistic precision is his way of life and thinking. Most interestingly he talks about the importance of fiction in a pervasive digital entertainment landscape. How do writers stay relevant and how do they get readers to connect with their work in a meaningful way? Now more than ever he believes, it’s important for writers to tell their stories in ways that people can connect to. Obviously DFW treads a fine line between this himself. He could easily disappear into linguistic gymnastics because he can but he doesn’t. He keeps the reader engaged and makes our world, as he sees it, available to us.
Of course, he also offers personal tidbits that every fan enjoys. For me, it’s devotion to his two dogs. He had become convinced that they couldn’t be left alone for long periods of time (or any time) because they would become lonely and he didn’t want them to suffer any more after having endured sad puppy lives. But his dogs were exacerbating his agoraphobia. And yet you knew that those dogs would always come first. I felt touched by his sweetness and his obvious frailty and that’s hard to see in anybody but particularly a man with such towering intellect and talents and with such difficult and ultimately overwhelming life struggles. I’m sad that he lost his struggle.