There is no dearth of people who have read David Foster Wallace or DFW. His works have been looked and re-looked and re-re-looked into several times over for clues to understanding modern/post-modern lives. His iconic work Infinite Jest has appeared in at least 50 of the articles I have read since I subscribed to some literary magazines in my Google reader feed.
The reason I still did not pick up DFW after so much fuss over him was a certain hesitation I have towards American literature. From earlier writers to contemporary ones, I have hardly enjoyed an American author other than Steinbeck. The American books seem too dense, intentionally obscure and always spreading to 500 plus pages. It is almost as if the authors don’t want people to read their words.
And Infinte Jest is certainly not inviting with its 1000 plus pages – it seemed to fall right into the category which I have come to identify with American literature. So I thought, let me ease into Wallace with a short story collection (a trick I tried with Joyce and it worked for me) – who knows may be I might end up liking him.
A few stories down in Girl with curious Hair, and my feelings have positively tilted in favor of DFW. And yet, there is some hesitation that remains. Some of the stories are brilliant. Take Here and There for example. A guy and girl narrate the story of their relationship (which is now over) simultaneously, going over the same summer and the same incidents. Eerily, it was almost as if it were two different stories – each of them seem wrapped up in their own worlds, disconnected from each other, living only with a perception of each other. The end summarizes it succinctly. The boy, an expert is theoretical electronics, falls to pieces while looking at a real circuit. A rather too obvious metaphor, perhaps. Yet, it uncannily describes that distance I feel with reality sometimes. Everything ends up as a concept inside the head, and while I conceptually know how to behave with a person, when to apologize, in reality things almost never go that way. Alienation, and the anxiety emanating from it could not be put more simply.
The other two engaging stories from the collection are – Little expressionless Animals and My Appearance. Both of them are doused in the world of television. Strictly speaking, the stories are perhaps a little out of date today, when television has already lost its ground to internet for devouring people’s time and energy. But then, you only have to replace Jeopardy with Tumblr and Lettermen’s show with Twitter, and the theme of the stories will become relavant to personal lives. There is a conversation in ‘Little Expressionless Animals”, where characters attempt to offer explanations about their lives to an imaginary TV audience. All of ‘my Appearance’ is about building and living a fake life, which is sensible and consistent. In both places, an artificiality, a simplification/justification arises because of the over-powering presence of media, because through it, you are now open to the world. (This also forces you to look into your own lives, analyze them more critically, do more, be more so that you could look better from that window, so in a way DFW is also celebrating media).
But then there are other stories which scare me – the title story for instance. Even though short, I found it tedious. It is about the punk life of a democrat and it appears to be written to shock. There is alienation of a kind in this story, a psycho-analysis and duplicity of life, but overall, it seems undeserving of being the title. Yet, DFW chose this as the title. It is this quirkiness that scares me from picking IJ – what if there is a lot of this quirkiness splashed over 1000 pages.
Nevertheless, his penchant for creating complex characters and have them come face to face with real ones is brilliant. And unlike the other Americans, his writing is clear, and written to be read.
As posted on Project Dogeared