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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 18 March 2017
I rarely laugh aloud but I fell off my chair several times at some of the stories. Many are perfect encapsulations of DFW's style of possibly deliberately self conscious discussion, and I found them to be among the best short stories I've read. Think Borges, but with footnotes and a level of vivid capture of the human mindset that few can approach. Deeply sad at times to, and the lines between the author and the narrator are invariably questioned when the author departed in such tragic circumstances. I highly recommend this to anyone - the vision of particularly the male mindset is still so relevant today.
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on 12 July 1999
[1] a writer i find to be absolutely brilliant but somewhat {quote/unquote} hit or miss (as it were) w/r/t some of his more recent works (A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again comes to mind), the most likely explanation being that i just don't {finger flex} get them.
[2] Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
[3] brilliant. his use of the word "shiteater" on page 46 (a) is literary prefection (no hyperbole employed). i laughed so hard during some of these stories ... and scratched my head through others (see CHURCH NOT MADE WITH HANDS).
(a) Footnote 5 of THE DEPRESSED PERSON (for anyone reading the paperback)
[4] it was nice to see a departure from all of the medical terminology that overwhelmes (in my opinion) Infinate Jest (i believe DFW gives a hint as to what effect his copious use of pedantic medical jargon is supposed to produce somewhere in Brief Interviews - in any case he uses it for a reason).
[5] full of some pretty scary stories (see SUCIDE AS A SORT OF PRESENT). DFW has been criticized for self-referencing (read OCTET) but i found it to be really helpful - particularly if what he [dfw] was writing was what was actually going through his [dfws] mind - plus it confirmed my fear that every sentence he [dfw] writes could be a story in itself in terms of being a small part of the reticulate of sentences that make up each story.
[6] highlights were THE DEPRESSED PERSON, Datum Centurio, (all of the POROUSNESS OF CERTAIN BORDERS stories), and OCTET (among others.. like the last BRIEF INTERVIEW).
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on 1 January 2000
Another collection of short stories from Wallace, although to my mind the majority of the pieces contained within this book are observations rather than actual stories. This is a book that at its best is enthralling and informs and entertains in equal measure, the variety and style of the writing bring alive a lot of the characters contained within.
The interviews themselves reveal a range of characters familiar to most of us and are witty and well observed. Wallace has the ability to convey ideas and situations concisely, an ability that he exploits on a regular basis in these pages. His mode of expression is a bit more hit and miss however, when it works (The Interviews, The Depressed Person, Adult World) it adds to the quality of the writing but the flowery wordplay of chapters such as Church Made With Hands comes across as slightly pretentious.
I'd put this down as the best of Wallace's three short story/essay books, a book which, with a couple of omissions, would have been perfect.
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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.
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on 10 August 2001
I cannot think of any other current writer more in touch with the spirit of the times than Wallace. He's most certainly of the cerebral type (equally adept at neurocognitive science and post-post-whatever literary theory), and the undisputed master of hard-tech US english. "Brief Interviews..." is merciless in its portrayal of the human condition - and it is sometimes difficult to discern whether your laughter is due to pure literary pleasure, or desperate self-defense in the face of a truth too nasty to bear. Wallace is basically tracking and describing the ongoing redistribution of the meaning of "being human", and anyone even remotely interested in which direction we are all headed should check out his books. At times brutal and bleak - but not without a certain tender regard for the fragile creatures lost in the information-saturated cultural wastelands of high modernity.
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on 17 March 2001
Following Jest was, to me,a nearly insurmountable task. However, DFW does a more than amazing job. The writing in this book is funny and perfectly serious all at once. Particularly the Brief Interviews sections-they had me laughing out loud and nearly resenting my laughter. if you've never read DFW before this is a good place to start. You get him in story-length dosages and this collection is, in fact, a good precursor to reading Jest, despite the fact that it was published years after.He really takes the modern concept of the story further than nearly anyone I've ever read. You'll enjoy this. Trust me.
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on 19 May 1999
While reading a recent review of DFW's latest collection of fiction, I was reminded of a song by Van Morrison, "Professional Jealousy," and the refrain: "Professional jealousy makes others crazy/ They think you've got something that they don't have/ What they don't understand is it's not that easy/ To cover the miles and be where you are." Wallace, like Van Morrison, has improved with age (and was brilliant to begin with), and "Brief Lives" demonstrates his multitudinous gifts better than any single book he's published to date. He rivals Dostoevsky when it comes to dramatic monologues. There isn't a funnier, or more poignant, father/son story than "On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright's Father Begs a Boon" -- with the exception, perhaps, of Saul Bellow's "Sieze The Day." And no one satirizes better our toxic culture and obsession with mental health (see "The Depressed Person")-- with the exception perhaps of Don Delillo's "White Noise." Wallace writes circles around overhyped wordsmiths, like Pynchon and Tom Wolfe. And he does justice to his teachers by outshining Barth, et al., in his postmodern pieces. There's not a bummer in the collection, regardless of what the critics say. Kudos, Mr. Wallace! Like Van Morrison, you're building a consistently beautiful body of work. What's next?
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on 4 February 1999
A member to the online Wallace discussion list posted the following:
"I managed to get my hands on a copy of the uncorrected advance proofs for Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
"According to the promo material, release date is May 28 and the book will cost $24. The author will tour New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco.
"Many of the stories have already appeared in Harper's, Esquire, Paris Review, etc., and are only one or two pages long. For those interested, here's a list of all the titles:
A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life
Death Is Not the End
Forever Overheard
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XI)
The Depressed Person
The Devil Is a Busy Man
Think
Signifying Nothing
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
Datum Centurio
Octet
Adult World (I)
Adult World (II)
The Devil Is a Busy Man
Church Not Made with Hands
Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VI)
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko
On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright's Father Begs a Boon
Suicide as a Sort of Present
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XXIV)
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on 31 July 2005
Intelligent, cerebral and darkly comic; this book is all these things. David Foster Wallace's collection of shorts (some very short) will shock and amaze, but is for the commited only.
Wallace reaches almost Joycean levels of impenetrability from time to time, and is from the "hurts so much let's pretend it's funny" school of comedy. Although, I can't quite think of a moment while reading the book when I laughed, rather than just raising a wry eyebrow.
This is excellent stuff, and should be read - just don't expect to (makes reflexive air quote gesture) "enjoy" it in the traditional sense.
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on 15 June 2013
How does he do it? David Foster Wallace was literary innovator par excellence, but it's not tricksnand traps and attempts to be clever. These devices are just increasingly sophisticated weapons to deliver the truth im ways that will double you over when you flinch and wince each time you recognize the monster. The truth.
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