I just finished reading Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. This book is some kind of a literary masterpiece yeah. I just didn’t enjoy reading it that...moreI just finished reading Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. This book is some kind of a literary masterpiece yeah. I just didn’t enjoy reading it that much. I understand what this book is supposed to be, and it’s very eye-opening to note what he is doing/trying to do/succeeding to do in any one of these stories, but it is simply not enjoyable to read. It is rather like– as a child does in one of the earlier stories in this book, the only story I enjoyed– finding yourself forced to leap off of a high-dive. Post-leap, there are several different ways to consider yourself as having grown somehow, but during the dive it is not at all entertaining. You may find yourself feeling harassed, terrified, bored, or any other of a number of unpleasant emotions, and when you are finished you will cry GOD I AM GLAD THAT IS OVER and you will go on living some kind of expanded life and cease to think much about said high-dive UNLESS you are one of those people who find themselves compelled constantly to do unpleasant things and therefore suddenly find yourself compelled, through this unpleasant childhood experience most other people are busy forgetting, to become a world-class high-dive leaper. The big thing is this: yes, it is clever to be all sorts of postmodern, and yes, those who can pull it off well are all geniuses and deserve much praise– and DFW can pull it off well, frequently– but this is still not the kind of thing that books were invented for. They’re not enjoyable as short stories. I don’t care if they are a ‘delight’ and a ‘harassment of the short story form’. I am not going to want to read short stories if the writer of the short stories wrote them in order to harass me. In the same way, though I would credit laudable creativity to an artist whose form of sculpture involved filling a room with knives, I would not particularly enjoy being in that room, and would instead feel a degree of tension of be a little bit upset. The only one of these stories I actually enjoyed was ‘Forever Overhead,’ a brilliant piece about a boy on a high-dive. I think it is stunning. Other sections– the first of the ‘Hideous Men’ sections, for instance, or ‘Church Not Made With Hands’, a story about a young family in a tragic situation– are wonderful also, but are, in the case of the first, not as easy to enjoy, or, in the case of the second, so buried into the abrasive unpleasantness of the rest of this excellently-written book that by the time the reader gets to it he or she is simply too mentally exhausted to even recognize that this story is well-done and pleasant instead of abrasive. Putting the book down does not help– remembering prior sections can so trouble or bore that reading onward simply becomes as unpleasant as they were, regardless of whether or not the bit you are actually reading is itself unpleasant. The writing gets to be its least-bearable when he starts to write totally ironically about how stupid it is to always be totally ironic. I don’t know if it’s possible to sarcastically criticise sarcasm without sounding like a jerk, even if you ARE DFW. The fact is this: when DFW wants to make you experience, as in ‘The Depressed Person,’ what it is like to enter the mind of a severely depressed person, he does it in such a way and with such accuracy and force that there is practically no room for the reader to reflect. That’s how genuine it gets. It is the same, though less so, with the bit about an honored playwright’s father who, on his death bed, insists on going on and on a bout how much he hates his talented son. DFW simply presents these relentless neverending trauma-filled paragraphs one after another as if he is pounding the reader’s head with a bloody brick, and the reader must shout ‘God, this is spectacular, DFW! Now please get the brick out of my eye!’ The question we should all be asking is NOT ‘Is this good?‘ The question should be, ‘Am I having a good time reading this?‘ It is a totally inescapable fact that wholly unpleasant things are rarely saved for posterity. Even upsetting or pathologically-focused books, like Crime and Punishment, are saved because there is something accessible or somehow pleasant about the reading experience that makes at least some of us refrain from hurling it out of a window. There is barely any such redeeming factor here. So. DFW is some kind of literary god. But it is now perfectly self-evident to me why more writers are not running around trying to be as horrifically postmodern as he was. It is soul-crushingly unhappy to be so postmodern. I do not mean to be crass, but these stories make it clear that DFW understands human agony and disgrace and depression. And he killed himself. So, I say this: it is okay not to like this book. Read it and perhaps admire it, but it is okay to dislike it. The reason you dislike it so much is that you have understood what DFW was trying to do. And the thing he was trying to do was not to write an accessible, edifying book, but to conduct ‘a harassment of the short story form,’ which is the opposite of what short stories are for. One does not go around trying to become a successful baker by baking breads which are a harassment of the mouth. There is a reason for this.(less)
An unusual book about the 'missing link' creature and what its discovery-- as a living species-- could do to soceity. Raises interesting questions abo...moreAn unusual book about the 'missing link' creature and what its discovery-- as a living species-- could do to soceity. Raises interesting questions about the meaning of life/us/etc, like it was intended to-- but sometimes these questions overwhelm the rest of the story. No one is very fully characterised, characters are sort of slapped around and treated as tools to introduce important questions (there's no closure for any of them but the main two), and the translation is very spotty.
Also: while being very critical of 'racialism' and the mistreatment of 'backwards races,' this book is simultaneously very condescendingly racist itself. If you feel like that would bother you, just don't read it. The author specifically states several times that the pinnacle of mankind's evolution is the white European male.
This book would make a good source for some kind of African-American Studies/Biology/History of Science thing, an interdisciplinary college student project, perhaps. Anyway, it's less valuable as a casual read and more significant as some kind of primary source, I think, for examining what some people in the mid-20th-century thought of Darwinian evolution.(less)
Extremely good. It plays with the hardboiled detective genre beautifully, and the sinister alternate universe it is set in is both mysterious and comp...moreExtremely good. It plays with the hardboiled detective genre beautifully, and the sinister alternate universe it is set in is both mysterious and compelling.
My only complaint is the fact that it seems to descend, in the last fifty or so pages, into a kind of ludicrous understanding of America that seems more inflammatory than purely story-driven. The American government does not waste its time trying to effect an Evangelical Christian rapture. I don't care how much of a cynical New York Jew you are, Chabon, but that was a stupid thing to add to the narrative. It seemed like a cop-out.(less)
Possibly the most adorable PG Wodehouse I have ever read-- It's honestly adorable, not smirkingly so, and nothing about it is not cute. However, embar...morePossibly the most adorable PG Wodehouse I have ever read-- It's honestly adorable, not smirkingly so, and nothing about it is not cute. However, embarrassingly so, male lead Wally Mason is clearly a case of plaintive partial self-insertion, which made ME smirk. But otherwise this is indeed a gem.(less)