5 of 5 stars
bookshelves: classics, post-modernism, to-read-2014, want-to-own, challenging-literature, library, favorites, DFW
Recommended to Dustin by: Garima
Read from October 21 to November 11, 2014
Expressionless Little Animals
“It’s 1976. The sky is low and full of clouds. The gray clouds are bulbous and wrinkled and shiny. The sky looks cerebral. Under the sky is a field, in the wind. A pale highway runs beside the field. Lots of cars go by. One of the cars stops by the side of the highway. Two small children are brought out of the car by a young woman with a loose face. A man at the wheel of the car stares straight ahead. The children are silent and have very white skin. The woman carries a grocery bag full of something heavy. Her face hangs loose over the bag. She brings the bag and the white children to a wooden fencepost, by the field, by the highway. The children’s hands, which are small, are placed on the wooden post. The woman tells the children to touch the post until the car returns. She gets in the car and the car leaves. There is a cow in the field near the fence. The children touch the post. The wind blows. Lots of cars go by. They stay that way all day.”
A haunting story as life-partners, Faye Goddard and Julie Smith, struggle with one’e identity, the pursuit/importance of knowledge, growing up in less than pleasant circumstances, and addiction.
Wallace seems to be saying a lot about knowledge. Particularly in light of his straight A student status throughout high school.
“I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today,” he once said, “of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it.”
Luckily The Account Representative Knew CPR
I thought I had a pretty clear sense of his style. Alas, I was pleasantly mistaken, as evidenced below:
“Each received, to the varying degrees their respective pains allowed, an intuition of the askew as, in the neatly stacked slices of lit space between the executive and the distant lament of a custodian’s vacuum, the Building’s very silence took on expression: they sensed, almost spinally, the slow release of great breath, a spatial sigh, a slightly sly movement of huge lids cracked in wakened affinity with the emptiness that was, after all, the reasonable executive realizes, half the Building’s total day..
The prose is unnecessarily verbose, it’s practically painful to read in fact, but at the same time it’s genius in its beauty and scope. It’s also quite succinct. The parallels drawn here, and in Little Expressionless Animals, fascinates me. But I digress.. There are elements here that are vague, while at others (sometimes simultaneously) incredibly lucid. Clever, imaginative, thought provoking and creative. To put it simply, it’s everything that the former isn’t.
Girl With Curious Hair
I’d heard about the humor that’s often staple of DFW’s work, but in every sense of the word, I truly couldn’t have prepared myself for his unparalleled sense of humor, which borders on hilarious and absurd. Beneath the comic relief, however, are glimpses of mind-numbing horror and violence. The subject matter is frankly, disturbing, sadistic and ultimately “entertaining.” Which brings me to my next point: said violence and escalating nihilism of the world was obviously a concern of Wallace’s when he wrote this, and I think it’s more relevant than ever before. In many ways, the title story reminds me of the 1990’s cult classic, Natural Born Killers.
Ahh, the addictiveness of violence..
There is much more to this rare gem that I simply won’t go into, its execution phenomenal, that I can give it nothing less than 5 stars!
“Right and wrong ain’t words…They’re feelings. In your guts and intestines and such. Not words. Not songs with guitars. They’re what make you feel like you do. They’re inside you. Your heart and digestion. Like the folks you personally love.”
This is a complex story about sacrifice, the meaning of right and wrong (it’s all relative, isn’t it?,) politics and the Vietnam War. Wallace also explores hetero/homosexuality, and it’s done in such a way as to be completely unbiased. There’s a certain dignity to both lifestyles which suggests an equality there. Like Little Expressionless Animals, I’m taken aback by its beauty. And this is coming from someone that doesn’t really believe in homosexuality, mind you. I think that highly of these stories!
I love a good vengeful tale, and this offering speaks volumes. There’s a sense of anticipation as it unravels, strongly contrasted with DFW’s trademark humor, vivid descriptions, and surreal energy. The prose is very dense and verbose, resulting in several dictionary consults and having to go back and re-read some passages. Another element I particularly enjoyed and found interesting was the satire-like use of cliche’s and generalizations of rural Oklahoma. Ordinarily, I’d frown upon such techniques (cliche’s being one of my absolute biggest pet peeves,) but seen here-not to mention the title story, which is much more extensive and over the top– I couldn’t help but love and appreciate what he achieved. It’s absurd, really!
Was any of it real? Or are we just dreams within a dream? What really happened that fateful day between T. Rex and C. Nunn Jr? It’s all open to interpretation. 4 stars
Here And There
So far, this is the most challenging of the collection. While the subject matter is quite mundane, the techniques used are not. For one, the prose isn’t linear. Secondly, the dialogue is never identified. Not only that, the entire 20 pages consists of their dialogue. But once I get a feel for the trio, it was pretty easy to follow and identify them, reminiscent of stream-of-consciousness. Wallace delves much deeper than that, though. The setting reads as two very bitter, dysfunctional individuals in the midst of couple’s counseling. The third character being, of course, the professional mediator, making said dialogue more difficult to discern.
Wallace pays homage to Kurt Godel, the story’s dedicated to him, in fact. He also explores themes such as lexicons, particularly the theorized death of poetry, and the imperfection of humanity.
In every facet of our lives, are we all genuine, all of the time? Do circumstances dictate our level of sincerity v. disingenious? Or does this only apply to celebrities, such as David Letterman? Is he a righteous phony, merely striving for increasingly high Nielsen ratings? Or does the age-old adage apply, “What you seen is what you get”? Furthermore, do you honestly believe “that no one is really the way they have to be seen”? And if we, as a society, truly feel the need to be fraudulent, what makes us feel this way? Our peers, the media, insecurities..?
“We get claws, the shape of our face is the shape of our skull, our lips retreat back from big teeth like we’re baring to snarl. Sharp, snarling, old: who should wonder at how nobody cares if I hurt, except another snarler?
Wow, I don’t even know what to say! There’s a tenderness that I hadn’t experienced from DFW before (not to this extent, at least,) let alone suspected. I simply love the close friendship between Mrs. Tagus and Mr. Labov. It’s a closeness that feels palpable, akin to a beloved elderly couple you’ve known for years.. though they are just really close friends. They’ve known one another for may decades. In fact, they (view spoiler)
What we have here, in the present, is a story of infidelity, betrayal, and the untimely consequences of a broken family as they must relate to each other, in their new found and tragic reality.
I wanted to rate this higher than my 4.5 stars, but found it somewhat confusing at first, and the ending left something to be desired, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing.
Everything Is Green
At a whopping two pages, this offering overwhelmed me with its sheep amount of depth, truth, beauty and sadness, as evident of the human condition.
“Everything is not green,” indeed.
Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way
What happens when three twenty-something’s who are sleep deprived, on edge, and dazed (amongst other things,) struggle to find their way to a McDonald’s reunion? As intriguing as this may or may not sound, said premise merely scrapes the surface. That’s right, the plot is almost secondary. Throughout the novella’s 144 pages, Wallace takes the reader deep into his beautiful, stunning and inarguably unique mind/world, showcasing (like The Price Is Right, anyone?,) the subtle differences between post-modernism and what he referred to as “New Realism,” or “the Resurrection of Realism,” coupled with metafiction. Interestingly enough, DFW didn’t consider himself to be a post-modernist.
Similar themes include the embodiment of character, of narrative; imperialism, consumerism; the influx of popular culture, superficiality, neurosis, and an overwhelming influx of information in general. This is the information super age, after all. All of which was his point. Wallace was attempting to convey the tedium of everyday life, fully acknowledging its tendency to disrupt our lives, thus slowing us down while at the same time, providing much revelation and allowing society (especially those in the 18-25 demographic,) to mature.. if only we let it.
In essence, Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way is about our ever-changing world. It also happens to be the most difficult of the collection (Here And There is simple in comparison,) and the most “real” feeling story I have read. Ever.
There is much, much more going on here that 1.) I’d be doing a disservice to dissect them all and 2.) I’m not even sure I comprehended it in its entirety.
“..The poor lucky reader’s not that scene’s target, though he hears the keen whistle and feels the razored breeze and knows that there but for the grace of the Pater of us all lies someone, impaled red as the circle’s center, prone and arranged, each limb a direction, on land so borderless there’s nothing to hold your eye except food and sky and the shadow of one slow clock…”
Whether it was written in homage to John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, or in parody remains to be seen. Either way, Wallace was clearly inspired by Barth’s 1968 release, which is also a short story collection.
I simply cannot cannot give this less than 5 stars.
Hopefully I have done Girl With Curious Hair the justice it deserved. Though I really doubt it.