The technology of the Kindle allows you to carry a library with you wherever you go. And, like a library, your Kindle collection should be vast and diverse. Aside from the New York Times Bestseller list, it can be hard to know which books are worth your time to download. Luckily, the literary cannon spans for generations.
Of the most recent generation of literary greats, David Foster Wallace sits near the top. Wallace became famous for his sprawling opus, Infinite Jest. At over 1000 pages, with over a hundred pages of endnotes, Infinite Jest can be an intimidating entry point to the former MacArthur Genius Grant recipient. However, Wallace also penned groundbreaking short-story collections that still convey his unique still without coming with a 1000 page commitment. If you want to give Wallace a try, there are two short story collections that are worthy of your download.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a unique take on the short story form, as it examines the psyche and rational of abusive relationships from the perspective of the abuser. In typical Wallace fashion, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is filled with paragraph long sentences, sharp humor, blends of academic and street language, and lengthy footnotes. But, above all, the real value comes in his attempts to examine the darker and less talked about realties of modern life.
Each interview is written in question and answer format. Wallace makes the decision to omit the questions of the interviewer, but they can be inferred through the answers given. With each interview, he mediates on different, but equally awful male behaviors.
One interview exposes how a man uses his deformed arm to guilt women into sleeping with him. The story adopts a blue-collar language, which makes for a unique blend of hilarious quips and disturbing revelations. Another interview shows a man taking advantage of a heartbroken woman’s trust to, you guessed it, sleep with her.
While the previously mentioned interviews are presented with a hint of surrealism, a hauntingly real portrayal comes in the form of a man admitting his tendencies to trick women into loving him. His method? He claims to go all in with relationships, making women believe that he is madly in love with them. But when the women reciprocate his love, he pulls back. The man goes to great lengths to push women away, until they have no other options but to leave him.
This particularly brief interview with a hideous man rings with a truth that can only come from personal experience. Parts of the interview reads almost as a confessional, as Wallace seems to be coming to a self-realization regarding his relationship habits right on the page.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a short story collection like no other. Stories are filled with internal rationalization and often lack traditional plot elements like exposition, character growth, and dramatic turns in fortunes. Instead, Wallace uses the collection to mediate and criticize the toxic masculinity. If you are up for some heavy and revealing reading, perhaps during periods of transition in your life, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is the book for you.
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Girl with Curious Hair is a more traditional short story collection, at least by Wallace’s standards. The stories are less driven my internal monologues and more driven by character and action. Girl with Curious Hair is Wallace’s first short story collection, and it really demonstrates his budding talents as a once in a generation talent.
“Lyndon,” a story told from the perspective of Lyndon B. Johnson’s press secretary, is a fun historical reimaging that includes a hilarious portrayal of Johnson, homoerotic implications of his relationship with his press secretary, and class examinations.
Wallace’s vivid imagination is on full display in “Lyndon,” as his adoption of his press secretary’s perspective is so believable it will leave you questioning if it was an accurate historical portrayal. Of course, it is not, but Wallace’s immense literary talents will stir your speculations of the former president’s potential homosexual tendencies.
“Girl with Curious Hair,” the collections title story, is told from the perspective of a sociopathic young republican who finds himself in the company of a group of punk rockers. The story, written in simplistic language, is as disturbing as it is bizarre. The narrator has a propensity to burn his significant others, an unhealthy quirk that gains whole new layers by the story’s climax. This story takes you on a peculiar journey through a sociopath’s psyche that will leave you shaking your head at Wallace’s impressively disturbed imagination.
“Little Expressionless Animals,” the first story in the collection, displays Wallace at this best. It features an ensemble of characters, a winding, nonlinear narrative, multiple hilarious pop culture references, and a powerful examination of human nature. The story follows the lives of a group of women who work for the TV gameshow jeopardy. The character’s struggle with demons such as abuse, abandonment, and alcoholism. This combination of strong characters dealing with challenging realties allows Wallace to show his literary genius.
In order to fully appreciate the talents of Wallace, you have to be willing to put in some hard reading hours. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Girl with Curious Hair are great starting points, as they contain a diverse collection of stories that shows off Wallace’s deep bag of literary tricks. Sometimes, reading can be a leisurely and fun experience. Other times, like with Wallace, it is a challenging endeavor that pushes you to the edge of your emotional and intellectual limits. With Wallace, you get the latter.
Get Girl with Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace for the Kindle.