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Two Good Stories; The Rest Is Violence
on 24 June 1999
The self-inflicted variety. Now, let's examine to start the footnote. As in: What is it good for? Not aboslutely nothing, as DFW has demonstrated. And demonstrated. And demonstrated. But finally the self-reflexivity, the restless consciousness and the canonical (and sexual) anxiety that inspires him to go off on tangents, stuff in information, clarify himself, etc. -- that's a theme whose melody stays within one octave. In BRIEF INTERVIEWS -- would that they were -- Wallace becomes self-parodic (the danger of being a stylist) because he doesn't push forward, find any new momentum in the despair and self-deceit he so carefully categorizes.
The best stories are the shortest: the first story (but two paragraphs) and a marvelous campfire story for adults called THINK. (Both these stories lack footnotes.) Other stories cajole and amuse but are weightless (like the worst parts of the way too long but really still quite thrilling INFINITE JEST) and other, longer stories collapse under the weight -- and waiting -- of their elusive yet obvious narratives. THE DEPRESSED PERSON starts off strong, finding comedy and satire and pathos in an anxious and depressed woman's therapy-driven attempts to overcome her condition. But finally the New Age excesses of therapy are an easy target, and certainly not one that can sustain such longwinded repetitiveness, and such dearth of real (not half-mocking) detail. James Merrill's poem FAMILY DAY AT ORACLE RANCH (I'm pretty sure that's the title) approaches this subject with greater openness and humor and, finally, mourning and disdain, finding more heart, more humanity, and more horror in about, oh, 1/75th of the length.
The best of other contemporary writers on DFW's subjects in BRIEF INTERVIEWS is much, much better than he's able to do. It will be interesting to see where he goes next -- I predict a much-needed change of pace, theme, structure, etc. There are plenty of other writers DFW's age -- Dale Peck foremost in the brain -- well worth the time and effort people are giving to this most tortured and self-defeating novelist. Nihilism never went down so easy.