Becky's Reviews > Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace
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Feb 01, 10

bookshelves: 2010, book-club, short-stories-and-essays
Read in January, 2010

I finished this book a few days ago and have been putting off writing my review because I have no idea how to even begin to reign in the countless different and often contradictory thoughts and feelings I have after reading this. The one thing that I know for sure is that David Foster Wallace is simply brilliant. Actually not simply brilliant, he’s brilliant in an amazingly complex way. Who else can use words like pseudometabelletristic, oneirically, nystagmic, aquilinity, and dithyrambicizes? Words that even my spell-check doesn’t know. Wallace’s style is difficult to read, with sentences that go on for pages, footnotes that go on and on, sometimes with footnotes to the footnotes, but the difficulty and struggle of reading it is what makes it so wonderful. It’s a struggle and a journey and I emerged feeling stronger and like a better person. Don’t get me wrong, though. There were several times I wanted to throw this book across the room and never pick it back up again. Sometimes I felt like Wallace was just using big words and making different stylistic choices for the sole purpose of being different. If I had to read another footnote of the self-aware ramblings of the short comings of an overly analytical character, I may have thrown in the towel. But I didn’t; there was something about the stories and Wallace’s style that made me want to keep going. Or maybe I’m just stubborn. But either way, I’m glad I struggled through this book. After reading these stories, I often felt both heavy and exhausted. Heavy from the weight of the sadness and painfully analytical nature of the characters, and exhausted from the struggle of trying to understand the writing, but this heaviness and exhaustion was exhilarating and empowering in a way I can’t really explain.

Oddly enough, I think my favorite story, “Octet” was one of the ones that was the most frustrating to read. It was a story of a few short stories that eventually evolved into the author discussing his writing process, describing what we was trying to portray and how he knew it was going to come out sounding another way, but even if he changed it, again he would still sound pretentious and deliberately post-modern. He even states in one of the footnotes, “Yes: you are going to sound pious and melodramatic. Suck it up.” He’s aware of the way he may come across, but this story made me realize the process and struggles of writing and trying to express big ideas in a way that is both creative yet accessible to readers. It made me less annoyed with Wallace and appreciate him a lot more.

A few reviews that express my feelings more eloquently and concisely than I was able to do:

“You feel challenged and entertained and somewhat intellectually violated, but you know you like it, you know Wallace is brilliant, and you ask yourself days later what other writer makes you so frustrated in such a wonderfully weird way.” (From the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

“You know the old story about how if you set a billion monkeys to work on a billion typewriters, one of them would eventually compose the complete works of Shakespeare? David Foster Wallace often writes the way I imagine that billionth monkey would: in mad cadenzas of simian gibberish that break suddenly into glorious soliloquies, then plunge again into nonsense.” (New York Times)

And a quote from Wallace himself about his writing: “Serious art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real like true pleasure is usually a by-product of hard work and discomfort.”

I’m giving this book five stars, because of the beauty that came through the struggle. I’m hesitant to suggest it because it was so frustrating and so many of the stories were slightly unsettling. But at the same time I’d still recommend it, because it’s unique, it made me think and feel more deeply than anything I’ve read in a while in a way I still can’t put into words. I feel like other things I read, while may be (significantly) more enjoyable, will feel somewhat empty or maybe too easy after reading Wallace.

Although I still could go on, I will stop here because I’m sure that’s more than anyone wanted to read about this book.
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