sarah's Reviews > Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace
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Apr 06, 07

bookshelves: shortstories
Recommended for: English majors
Read in January, 2007

Usually when some undergraduate English major brings up DFW to me at a keg party I tend auto-file them under "douchebag." Because, let's be honest people - Infinite Jest was profoundly not good. But everything that's irritating about Wallace's thoroughly self-aware postmodern writing style is somehow much more stomachable in smaller bites. Brief Interviews has its highs and lows - the quality is extremely variant between the pieces - but when it's on, it is ON. In fact, Brief Interviews holds moments where Wallace is actually transcendant.

If you're looking to buy or borrow this book, take my advice : do not read the whole thing. First, read the interviews. They're the clear highlights, with the last one being, in my opinion, one of the best pieces of short fiction written in the last couple of decades. If you're feeling it at that point, then dive in to the other ones - Octet is a particularly strong, as is Suicide as a Sort of Present. A good percentage of the stories use painfully self aware "tricks" to "challenge" the modern concepts of narration, character, structure, etc -- "tricks" that are now being replicated unendingly in sophomore fiction writing seminars across the world, I'm sure. It's not particularly clever and for the most part detracts from the writing. But in the Interviews, Wallace manages the dialectic narration style more or less beautifully, somehow capturing both the worst and best traits of his characters. These men are hideous; even worse, they are hideously realistic, and I often found my pity or empathy overwelming my initial stomach-churning disgust. These portraits are intimate and familiar; it's like listening in on a conversation of an ex-boyfriend.

The last interview is off-the-charts good, mostly because it manages to be both grotesque and quite funny. This is the DFW that people obsess over - tossing around references, satirizing modern society, soaking dialogue in irony. That story alone is worth the price of the book.

If you end up loving this book - more power to you. DFW has definitely done things to earn his widespread critical acclaim. Just don't name-drop him to pick up girls at parties, because that makes you an asshole.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Ryan (new) - rated it 1 star

Ryan 'Usually when some undergraduate English major brings up DFW to me at a keg party I tend auto-file them under "douchebag."'

-I love you for writing that.


message 2: by Tiffany (new) - added it

Tiffany I just read your review, after reading about 60 pages this weekend and a male recommending this book, I have been dying to hear another female perspective and your review hit it straight on.


message 3: by Will (new)

Will It seems to me that in actuality it is you, that is the undergraduate douchebag. I am basing this totally on your comments and personality.


message 4: by Kate (new) - added it

Kate Kinda disappointed.. This review makes it sound like you only hate him because others seem to love him so much. Have you read all of Infinite Jest? If so, how do you not love it? I just am curious, because I've been reading through all his works for the past two years, and I don't get where the major dislike is coming from.


message 5: by Will (new)

Will She is simply frustrated because she cannot understand the text. It is ok not to understand something, but to put it down for that purpose just does not add to any kind of dialogue.


Catachresis 'Because, let's be honest people - Infinite Jest was profoundly not good. ' - comple nonsense. The only fiction writer of genius at the time of his death.


Dana I hope not too many males (undergraduate or otherwise) take this review to heart, because there are women out there who would not autofile a guy as anything for bringing up DFW. Sure, there are guys who will, in a pretty obvious way, drop the name of a modern literary genius in order to gain some kind of ground with a woman at a party, but the act is pretty transparent. The alternate possibility of a guy mentioning DFW to engage in an earnest discussion should not be discouraged in the least. I could talk with someone about his writing for hours, and always look forward to the opportunity.


message 8: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch Wow, check out the defensiveness! People, let's not act like 'DFW' fundamentalists here - someone doesn't much like him she's got every right to say so. And no, the word 'hate' wasn't mentioned. You ask me, this is an intelligent, well-argued and balanced review. Thanks Sarah, especially for signposting the parts you think are transcendent; I'll keep your review in mind when I attempt this later on.

Oh, and guys, the way to 'add to dialogue' on a work is not to insult any dissenters. And 'only writer of genius at the time of his death'?! Don't you mean only famous writer that you're aware of? There are writers in cultures and languages all over the world, y'know, and probably less than 1% of them are promoted to the degree of Foster Wallace.

Peace, all. My pick for contemporary writer of genius? Italian Antonio Tabucchi - one of many, of course.


Erin Your second paragraph summed it up for me. I didn't know whether to vom, cry, or feel those transcendental moments. And yes, yes, I think we all recognize a few ex-boyfriends here ... the subtle satire of seeing the intrviews as an outside party turns them into vindicating satire.


Craig Hmmm...Infinite Jest is one of the towering works of postmodern literature. The multiple layers of character and story line meld beautifully with DFW's lyrical tone.

I enjoyed "Brief Interviews..." but I would consider this to be an "introductory" collection to his style. Nevertheless there are some gems here and clear reminders that DFW possessed a special talent and deep intelligence.


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