Joshua Nomen-Mutatio's Reviews > Oblivion: Stories

Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
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May 12, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, short-stories
Read in January, 2005 — I own a copy , read count: some stories several times

From my favorite story, "Good Old Neon":

"What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant."

Oblivion is not as consistently solid as his first short stories collection Girl With Curious Hair, but hands down is amazing nonetheless.

Only slight complaint: The very first story is a bit difficult as it's loaded with corporate marketing, PR and advertising jargon, but it still unfolds eventually as being brilliant nonetheless. According to an interview Wallace spent quite a long time writing that one. My complaint is that it was not the best decision to place this story as the first in the collection. I have to wonder how many people were put off by it and then didn't get to the rest of the stories which are wonderful, top-notch DFW.

"Incarnations of Burned Children" is a mere 2.5 pages long but an example of perfectly condensed intensity.

"The Soul Is Not A Smithy" is tremendously suspenseful and melancholy. Also contains some of the most emotionally pointed descriptions of the mind of a young child playing mental games with themselves due to elementary school-daze boredom.

And the finale, "The Suffering Channel", is a wonderful example of the well-balanced surrealism, and the emotional and moral realism that is brought out when playing with the twin forces of sadness and hilarity that Wallace is widely celebrated for. It involves a man who shits perfect sculptures and the glossy magazine journalist who must cover the story and spin it appropriately.

My second favorite story is "Another Pioneer." It's just great. That's all I'll say about it for now.
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Quotes Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Liked

David Foster Wallace
“What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.”
David Foster Wallace, Oblivion

David Foster Wallace
“The truth is you already know what it's like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.

But it does have a knob, the door can open. But not in the way you think...The truth is you've already heard this. That this is what it's like. That it's what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless inbent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you're a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it's only a part. Who wouldn't? It's called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it's why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali--it's not English anymore, it's not getting squeezed through any hole.

So cry all you want, I won't tell anybody.”
David Foster Wallace, Oblivion

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben The only thing that keeps me from adding this to my "to read" shelf is the run-on sentence thing. I'm almost positive I would find that unforgivably frustrating. I assume it's a part of his style and he does it all the time. Is that correct?

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I don't even notice it because the content transcends nearly all stylistic quirks and, if you like, glitches. But yeah, apparently he has long sentences. People point it out often enough, almost as often as they refer to Infinite Jest as a "daunting tome" or to Wallace as a genius. To this I say: so what? He makes run-ons work, dammit. And for me, like I said, they work so well that I honestly don't notice it until some extra-textual commentary comes along pointing it out as if it's a (valid) criticism in itself.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Random Comment On DFW Haters:

One thing to note about nearly all of the one star reviews of Infinite Jest is this: nearly all of them admit somewhere that they never finished the book, many dropped it like 1/36th of the way through. To these people I say: you don't deserve to read and enjoy a book this wonderful...and fuck your lazy, disingenuous "critiques."

message 4: by Ben (last edited Aug 15, 2009 04:45PM) (new)

Ben So it doesn't make a difference to you, and that makes sense. But my question was how often he does it. I guess you aren't sure, since you said you don't notice it?

I've never read anything from him before, and I'll give him a chance; it's just a question of when that is, and I'm more likely to pick him up sooner than later if he doesn't do his sentences like that often.

So I'm still trying to get an answer. Perhaps you aren't sure and I should ask someone else?

message 5: by Ben (new)

Ben And rereading what you wrote, I guess if he makes it work than it doesn't matter. Fuck it, I'll try him soon.

Chris Ben -- He may do run-on sentences fairly often but they are the most awesome run-on sentences you'll ever read.

message 7: by Ben (new)

Ben Haha, aight. Maybe I'll actually like them, ya know? Gotta try.

message 8: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Aug 16, 2009 12:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio The more I think about it the more I would recommend that people new to DFW start with his first short stories collection Girl with Curious Hair. His first two books (the novel/his college thesis paper (!)) The Broom of the System and the recently aforementioned short stories collection probably have a lower net level of run-on sentences and a more "accessible" style on the whole.

Starting with Infinite Jest as I did probably helped make me view the rest of his corpus through Infinite Jest-tinted glasses, which was obviously a good thing for me since I loved it so much. But for those who are apprehensive about beginning this way (or beginning with Wallace at all for that matter) I say pick up Girl with Curious Hair. Although, the final and mind-blowingly brilliant story is the rather lengthy "Westward The Course of Empire Takes Its Way" which would typically be considered not to be stylistically "accessible" at all really. It's both a barbed criticism of and heartfelt tribute to metafiction (more commonly called postmodern literature), a hilarious quasi-autobiographical look into his writing workshop days in graduate school, and much, much more. And at its heart (as with all of his work) is a sincere and emotionally resonant portrait of what it means to be a homosapien in the 20th/21st century and beyond. Great stuff.

message 9: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Nov 14, 2009 04:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Rereading "Another Pioneer" tonight for the forth time...

...and it's glorious.

message 10: by Sam (new) - added it

Sam Klein Ben Harrison - I never even notice the run-on sentences.
MyFleshSingsOut - Thanks for the tid-bit about the Wallace interview. I would love to see that. I know he interviewed with Charlie Rose.

message 11: by Drew (last edited Mar 25, 2012 09:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Drew I always hear this about "Westward," that it's stylistically not too accessible and/or requires some specific foreknowledge about or experience with postmodern literature. Not that you went that far, but some do. I actually read it before I knew much of anything about things postmodern, and still really liked it. Didn't get it, exactly, but still liked it. All the characterization of Mark Nechtr and Tom Sternberg and...D.W.? I can't believe I can't remember her name. Gotta go look that up. Anyway, I still liked it.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio One man's "accessible" is another's confusing pomo nonsense, I guess. I hadn't read Barth's "Lost in the Funhouse" before reading "Westward" and loved it. I knew enough about DFW's general take on the strengths and weaknesses of metafiction beforehand, though, and felt that it added another dimension to enjoy in the story.

message 13: by Drew (new) - rated it 4 stars

Drew D.L.! I guess that means I should read it again.

message 14: by Will (new) - added it

Will Bernardara, Jr. Reading OBLIVION now. I loved GIRL WITH CURIOUS HAIR; it's one of my all-time favorite short-story collections. BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN was equally brilliant but more experimental and therefore some stories worked better than others. I've heard OBLIVION is DFW's best collection. Excited to delve.

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