Some of the reviews here mention that Martin's intentions to place a strong philosophical subtext in the novel seem to fail; there is a little truth t...moreSome of the reviews here mention that Martin's intentions to place a strong philosophical subtext in the novel seem to fail; there is a little truth to that. I think I would like to have read this book for a class because, frankly, I believe that subtext to be there, just deeply buried, and I personally could have used a guide. But don't think this book is dryly cerebral or academic. It's actually pretty lurid (drugs, prostitutes, lies) yet stylish and extremely well plotted. The novel's also an interesting look at the inside of the jewelry business and could probably be quite a good movie if made by the right people (Cronenberg, maybe?).
Also worth pointing out: blurbs on the back from the likes of Jonathan Franzen and Zadie Smith. Sold, yet?(less)
So I’ve put off reading this, David Foster Wallace’s first novel (and first published book), but with the upcoming release of The Pale King I felt mot...moreSo I’ve put off reading this, David Foster Wallace’s first novel (and first published book), but with the upcoming release of The Pale King I felt motivated to take a pass at it and have all of his stuff read before that posthumous and final(?) work comes out. Which is to say that I’ve read everything else by the man, which is to say I’m a pretty big fan (RIP).
The reason I’ve waited for so long to get around to it mostly has to do with its reputation, which if you followed Wallace much at all you probably know that it was met with less than full critical praise in some corners and that eventually even Wallace considered it juvenilia. I recently picked up Consider David Foster Wallace: Critical Essays, which includes at least one selection that disputes that assessment, but I decided not to read it before I got at least some of my thoughts out about the book (and so you may be hearing more about that after a while).
Anyways: not his best, but really, what writer would want their first novel to be their best? Isn’t it way better to build an awesome career arc instead of just serving up diminishing return after diminishing return? Though in Wallace’s case, of course, that awesome arc came to an all too early, tragic end.
I much preferred the first half of the book to the second (which in some ways mirrors Wallace’s own reaction to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks — just the kind of epiphany you get to have when you steep yourself deeply in a writer’s work; btw, if you want more Wallace on David Lynch, the essay is collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, which was my own introduction to Wallace and which I would generally recommend as a starting point), although the ending isn’t exactly as bad as I’d heard, either. Though it is frustrating to have gotten through the sloggy second half (you won’t get this if you haven’t read it yet, but: Tedium, thy name is “Fieldbinder.”) just to get to some real rising/collapsing action at the end, and then have the story just sort of poof out. But if you get to that point and are confused or think things are overly ambiguous … um, maybe you should read it again? I’m not trying to be snide, but I’m also not going to be spoiler-y.
My favorite parts are the pillow-talk stories that Lenore (the protagonist) gets her publisher boyfriend Rick Vigorous to tell her. They really are like half-baked college sophomore-level ideas elevated by the ironic device of having them filtered through and related by this sensitive, articulate character, in a voice which is undeniably Wallace’s natural (okay, “natural,” maybe) writing voice (the one he uses in essays and fictional exposition). Also his ear for the rhythms of speech and dialogue are amazingly fully formed, especially his use of short dramatic beats. Mostly it’s just really clear that he learned a lot about his talents and limitations from Broom and went on to do even better work.(less)
Actually didn't finish this one. I made it through the first section, decided the main character was a charmless cad, surrounded by other charmless ca...moreActually didn't finish this one. I made it through the first section, decided the main character was a charmless cad, surrounded by other charmless cads, and returned it to the library (it was due anyways). Though if anyone wants to convince me that it gets much better, please feel free to do so. It is well written (and/or translated, I guess?) and the comparisons with Borges aren't without merit, but it wasn't enough for me.(less)
**spoiler alert** I’ll refrain from too much undigested insight (though: an Arrested Development episode as written and directed by Noah Baumbach, any...more**spoiler alert** I’ll refrain from too much undigested insight (though: an Arrested Development episode as written and directed by Noah Baumbach, anyone?), but I will say that if, like me, you weren’t particularly wowed by The Corrections, Franzen’s latest might still be worth your checking out. My main problem with the former was that the ending seemed a little too simple and very much unearned, and while he pulls the same stylistic tricks — broadening and softening his focus in the epilogue (which, sure, of course, right?) — in Freedom, everything seems very much earned, even the kind of simplistic little story arc shoehorned in about Walter’s “thawing.”
Also, if, like me, you found yourself not really buying into Patty’s autobiographical section near the beginning: that gets put into a better context, eventually, trust me. (Though I was so glad when that part was over!)
Franzen does a good job of keeping things pretty well readable while still making me, like, look up half a dozen or so words, and the narrative also includes some bona fide cliffhangers as he switches chapters from one character’s POV to another. I was especially eager to know what Joey’s dire predicament was going to be, even if it did end up being predictable (which is really just another way of saying it was perfect).
My unkindest thought while reading it: that it seemed like the world’s most ambitiously literary Airport Book. Kind of a thing where it’s still a little true but not as unkind as I thought, now that I’ve finished. I’ll let the experts decide its GAN status. Definitely worth the $.60 or so I’m going to pay in late fees to the library, in any case.(less)
I read this book almost ten years ago, and as much as I enjoyed it, and as much as I've recommended it to people in general over the years, I think I...moreI read this book almost ten years ago, and as much as I enjoyed it, and as much as I've recommended it to people in general over the years, I think I must be the most surprised, now, by how inessential a work it seems to be. (This is good news, by the way, if you're a fan of Wallace's, because it means his "real" big-deal novel is out there still waiting to be written (and read!).)
There's no doubting, of course, that DFW more or less made his reputation with _Infinite Jest_, but some of his earliest detractors may have actually been pretty accurate: maybe it is all a little bit too showy and self-satisfactorily pyrotechnic. Is _Infinite Jest_ really much more than an announcement of the author's own ambition?
Maybe. But maybe not.
If nothing else, _IJ_'s sense of cohesion is probably saved by the ambiguity of the author's own carefully constructed parable of intention. It's never really made clear whether the book is to be read as an anti-media manifesto (cf "samizdat"), an apology for that sort of behavior, or some subtle, faux or ironic apology for that sort of behavior.
And it can a be a thrilling little regressive maze to get lost in sometimes -- Wallace knows what he's doing. That's why he gets 4 stars. You also can't discount his attraction towards humanity as a subject. It's true that that focus is, at its closest, in a near-medium distance, but the gaze is constant and pretty well balanced.
(Plus the sheer size of the thing. And the /endnotes/! Get ready to use two bookmarks at once!)(less)
Congrats, Aynnie! You've received my first single star rating! I read this in high school when I was reading a lot of dystopian future literature and...moreCongrats, Aynnie! You've received my first single star rating! I read this in high school when I was reading a lot of dystopian future literature and thought it was by far the worst of the lot. Granted, if I'd read it when I was younger I might have liked it more, but saying that the even younger, less mature, more pretentious version of my teenage self would have liked something is hardly a glowing endorsement.
As such I've steered /way/ clear of her door-stoppers. I don't think you really need to come up with some faux cerebral excuse to justify selfishness; if you're going to be self-centered your actions are ultimately justified by your own selfish inner drives, not your intellect. At best Rand was a shrewd self-marketed Cold War personality. At worst she's cynical, petty, pedantic, and most unforgivable of all, _boring_.(less)
In a plot running strangely parallel to _Gulliver's Travels_ and employing no small amount of Swiftian satirical layers, Houellebecq revisits his sexu...moreIn a plot running strangely parallel to _Gulliver's Travels_ and employing no small amount of Swiftian satirical layers, Houellebecq revisits his sexually charged and spiritually weary world of characters with what is probably his penultimate -- if not necessarily his most readable -- work. Much is made about the author's scandalous reputation, but like most tabloid loci one begins to feel as bad for his "jaded" (or whatever) supporters as one does for his supposedly naive and prudish detractors. His characters' over-noted misanthropy seems much more sui generis than ad hominem (well, okay, despite the fact that, per usual, the author shares the same name as the protagonist), and if this puts them and the reader in the thrall of an oh-so-french brand of existential dread, well, then, why shouldn't it? And how would that explain away how well his art seems to work against the rest of the west, anyway? In the best Wildean tradition, his art works against utility in order to achieve brilliance.(less)