12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good place to begin with Wallace
Readers come to David Foster Wallace by any of a number different routes. During his life he published novels, short stories, a book on mathematics and collections of journalistic articles. Since his death in 2008, another collection, his unpublished thesis and an unfinished novel have emerged. Of all this varied production, the articles seem - rather worryingly - to be...
Published on 13 July 2011 by Paul Bowes
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What's not to hate?
The first story is a practically unreadable cross between George Saunders and Nicholson Baker, even skipping (which I hate doing). The comprehensive loathing shown for everything is almost drowned out by the self-loathing of gross, Catholic, up himself Schmidt, who IS the late Wallace, a chronic depressive with (if I've got my chronology right) a hit novel under his belt...
Published 13 months ago by Simon Barrett
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good place to begin with Wallace,
This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)Readers come to David Foster Wallace by any of a number different routes. During his life he published novels, short stories, a book on mathematics and collections of journalistic articles. Since his death in 2008, another collection, his unpublished thesis and an unfinished novel have emerged. Of all this varied production, the articles seem - rather worryingly - to be becoming more celebrated than the fiction. In addition, the long novel 'Infinite Jest' has erased much of his other writing in the public mind by virtue of its fabled length, ambition and difficulty, which has made it a novel arguably more talked about than read.
I have always felt that Wallace's best writing is in his short stories. The limits of the shorter form curb his single greatest weakness, which was his inability or unwillingness to rein in his tendency to digression. They make the concentration of his gaze and density of his prose at the level of the sentence and paragraph appear appropriate to the demands of the form rather than the accidental product of a failure to control larger structures - which is certainly a criticism that can be levelled at the novels.
I first read 'Oblivion' in 2005, and on rereading I find it to be both characteristic of Wallace and somewhat easier to approach than the early collections, and therefore a good place to start for the reader completely new to the author. In fact, it's the opening story, 'Mister Squishy', that presents the greatest test of endurance for the uninitiated, and I would actually recommend beginning with the shorter - and very funny - 'Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature' for the reader dipping a toe. But everything here - stories varying from a couple of pages to almost novella length - repays persistence.
Wallace has garnered a reputation for intimidating intelligence, formal difficulty and a certain doggedness in microscopic examination of the minutiae of common social habits and seemingly trivial phenomena. But what emerges here is a composite portrait of a mind preoccupied with the sheer difficulty of living in our times. Wallace is very modern: his stories concern themselves with the texture of day-to-day living in a way that makes few concessions to the reader's - or the traditional novelist's - sense of what might be important. His characters are often mid-level businessmen and bureaucrats whose personalities are difficult to separate from their employment. That employment is likely to be connected with the media, or marketing: Wallace was a connoisseur of the mediated environment and the novel kinds of people that that environment produces. Much of his writing here is droll social comedy.
Wallace was quite capable of seeing - and conveying - the humour in, say, a thirty-year-old's desperation in the face of his soul-destroying job. But if there is a common thread linking these stories it is an existential anxiety that constantly threatens to erupt from behind the façade of normal, uneventful life. Authors are always being accused of writing disguised autobiography, but there is much in these stories that resonates with what we know of the author's life, even though this is more a question of mood than detail. There is a deep seriousness here, and a persistent sense of dread, a question of a great deal being at stake in the answers to Wallace's questions, that should defuse any temptation to dismiss Wallace as a mere virtuoso of empty postmodernist trickery. Those tricks are there, but in 'Oblivion' they are finessed and incorporated rather than blazoned, and the real demands Wallace makes are emotional rather than purely formal.
Readers who are prepared to make the effort of attention that it demands will find this book worth the investment.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Demanding, entrancing,
This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)Each of the stories in this collection is memorable and atmospheric and taken together they put the reader through a marathon of amazing writing.
In the first one, Mister Squishy, we are given the thoughts and thought -processes of a middling marketing officer for a large corporation in New York as he speaks to a focus group of men who are testing a cake bar called Felony, which has the company's logo Mr Squishy face behind bars. The idea is that this cake bar is so good it is almost illegal. This story is far too long and has a sub-plot that comes to nothing and as such it is the most disappointing story in this collection. However, I have to say that the impressive thing about it is the denseness of the writing. It is deep and reflexive and hugely digressive without ever seeming to leave its subject. That is, it goes deep into its subject, much more deeply than a writer usually has the capacity for, and this makes it both uncomfortable and complicated to read. The kind of concentration needed is not rewarded by much insight, other than the fact that the narrator knows how empty and pointless these kinds of marketing exercises are and how pointless are all the statistical and technical paraphernalia that surround them.
The title story Oblivion is about a couple whose daughter has left home for college leaving them to personal irritations concerning whether or not the husband snores. This is darkly comic and disturbing, but again, far too long.
The last story in this collection is a masterpiece and converted me to agreeing with the blurb, penned by Douglas Kennedy, that calls the writer "The heir apparent to Thomas Pynchon". It is surreal, believable and marvellous. The detailed and digressive prose is works its way into the imagination of the reader and captivates and entrances as the events unfold. Called, The Suffering Channel, this story has a potentially offensive and weird subject matter concerning works of art made from human excreta. It is also hilarious to the point of hysteria. At one point I had to put this book aside since the kind of concentration needed to continue has an intensity and exclusiveness that is almost exhausting.
Much of this work offers an experience in reading that makes demands on the reader and is therefore to be appreciated in the same way as classical prose such as George Eliot's Middlemarch or, indeed, Thomas Pynchon's V. One has to take it steady rather than try to read in devouring mode. Yes, it is difficult, but only because of this demand for concentration of the deepest kind. Nevertheless, the entertainment factor, when it comes off best, is much higher than for other kinds of writing. I found myself absorbed, engaged, and in the end completely approving.
Now I want more.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What's not to hate?,
This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)The first story is a practically unreadable cross between George Saunders and Nicholson Baker, even skipping (which I hate doing). The comprehensive loathing shown for everything is almost drowned out by the self-loathing of gross, Catholic, up himself Schmidt, who IS the late Wallace, a chronic depressive with (if I've got my chronology right) a hit novel under his belt he was trying desperately to live up to. Is it supposed to be funny, Zadie (they were chums), or are we supposed to care? If this is what he thought of the modern world - of which he was part - no wonder he wanted out. When he gets onto his pet parentheses, that I learned to know and hate in Consider the Lobster, my heart failed me - in a *story*?? When the second story resorted to similar jokey affectation (cod headings, this time) I wavered. When I got to page 75 (20-line heading) I laid the book aside. Tomorrow's another day, but sorry, Wallace, loathing's contagious
4.0 out of 5 stars Olivion - DFW,
This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)I don't particularly rate Wallace's first two short story collections, 'Girl With Curious Hair' and 'Brief Interviews With Hideous Men'. As the author himself commented on BIWHM: "There isn't really an agenda with this book, except for a certain amount of technical, formal stuff that I don't know if I want to talk about and I don't think people really want to hear about."
That was always my problem with both aforementioned collections of short fiction: they were overtly technical exercises for Wallace to show off his skillset and remind everyone just how smart a writer he was. The problem was there was no payoff for the hardwork involved, something that Wallace *knew* was required and explains why his novels feature as many hilarious sections as they do intricate technical passages. The point being, Wallace's short fiction often doesn't have the space to be both technical and engaging.
'Oblivion' is certainly the best stab at this combination in the short form that Wallace made, with "The Suffering Channel" being exactly what I wish more of his short stories were like: readable, true to his style, but dealing with heavyweight themes in a manner that interested, rather than alienated the reader. Even better is "Good Old Neon", which is without doubt the best short he wrote (much better than "The Depressed Person" to which it is, understandably, frequently linked). It makes for grim reading in retrospect of Wallace's death, but even had I read it before that event it still would have registered as a brilliant piece of writing. Its insight and conveyance of a particular mind is almost unmatched. "Mister Squishy" is interesting in its portrayal of boring business matters in America, somehow remaining interesting in spite of tedious subject matter; a talent more fully developed in 'The Pale King'.
The other stories in this collection whilst not such standout efforts certainly didn't bore me in the way that certain stories from both GWCH and BIWHM did. With a few exceptions Wallace does away with the footnotes and endnotes that characterised his earlier work and were in danger of becoming a cliche. 'Oblivion' is definitely a more mature work than his other short story collections and the best of the bunch. Overall, it still doesn't scale the heights that Wallace's novels reached - given his maximalist style Wallace needed the breathing space that novels permit - but there are gems here that are an essential part of Wallace's output and not to be missed.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sharp Edge of the Truth,
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This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)If you lacked the patience to get through Infinite Jest or the Pale King, these short stories are the perfect way to get acquainted with a master wordsmith who can confuse you like Delillo and move you like Franzen.
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond any other living writer.,
This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)David Foster Wallace has been likened (not especially favourably) of late to Zadie Smith, Thomas Pynchon and even Salman Rushdie, as an exponent of, and member of, a new literary type: the Hyper Realist. This apparent 'new breed' of author is identified by the myriad transgressions and surreal sub-plots, mini-essays and wild tangents that permeate their work, breaking up the traditional narrative flow and making the reader work especially hard for their novel.
What DFW actually does is create such utterly recognisable worlds, with overwhelming clarity and confusing details, as only reality seriously provides, that unless you are very careful you will be sucked into these stories and find your head spinning as you extract yourself and wonder whether it was just a book. His mastery of prose, his swift and accurate turns of phrase and lightning fast chopping and changing from one narrative thread to another is just amazing. Truly he has no real contempories.
In 'Oblivion: Stories' DFW has created a series of short stories, tales and vignettes to enthral and amaze. To read an author at the height of literary power, to be enraptured with stories of the everyday, but told with a use of language that would make any other writer question their own talents, then buy this book.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good collection of stories,
This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)Oblivion is a short story collection by the recently-deceased author David Foster Wallace comprising 8 stories and 329 pages. These stories are difficult of description and, not infrequently, of comprehension.
The difficulty lies in Wallace's attraction to excessive verbosity, complex sentence structures, extensive use of parentheses and parentheses within parentheses and difficult logical and philosophical ideas.
Arguably, Wallace can seem to be indulging in intellectual games or verbal showboating. This hinders the narrative at times. Perhaps he is simply too intelligent to be a wholly successful exponent of narrative fiction, or too conscious of his intelligence, at least.
Nevertheless, I found this book generally very enjoyable. The humour and tone was to me reminiscent of Flann o'Brien and also with echoes of Thomas Pynchon. The story Good Old Neon is an extremely interesting and substantial exploration of the problems of excessive consciousness of one's self, one's actions and one's impressions on others. In this story, Wallace's characteristic irony is discarded for a more serious tone. Though Wallace is a master of the ironic tone, there are times when a bit of variation is needed. Good Old Neon is, I think, the best and most memorable story in the collection.
Overall, I enjoyed this book for the undeniable intelligence and wit displayed therein. I feel it would appeal to fans of the aforementioned Flann o'Brien or Thomas Pynchon. I would not recommend this book to persons of low intelligence.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best,
This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)Unless you work in market research, and as long as you like fiction, you'll be blown away by this. one of those treats that makes you realise we live in a literary sweet shop where you don't have enough time to read all the cutting edge, addictively thrilling fiction there is out there.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars rare abstraction,
This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)dfw gives so much pleasure; he never seems to miss
what interests him interests the reader
surely, only 10%/15% of his work was done
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Oblivion: Stories by David Foster Wallace (Paperback - 28 April 2005)