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Oblivion: Stories

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  12,754 ratings  ·  937 reviews
In the stories that make up Oblivion, David Foster Wallace joins the rawest, most naked humanity with the infinite involutions of self-consciousness—a combination that is dazzlingly, uniquely his. These are worlds undreamt-of by any other mind. Only David Foster Wallace could convey a father's desperate loneliness by way of his son's daydreaming through a teacher's homicid ...more
Paperback, 329 pages
Published August 30th 2005 by Back Bay Books (first published June 8th 2004)
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Kellan Marvel This is a tough one. DFW wrote some outstanding magazine articles, which is where I started with his work. His fiction is very, very different (and mu…moreThis is a tough one. DFW wrote some outstanding magazine articles, which is where I started with his work. His fiction is very, very different (and much more difficult to get through) than his nonfiction. I'd recommend starting with some of his shorter stories (here's a link to his publications in Harper's: ) before diving into his novels. DFW is, hands down, my favorite author to date so I highly recommend reading some of his stuff. Personally, one of my favorite articles he wrote is called "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" and it follows his trip on a cruise line (sometimes titled as "Shipping Out"). (less)
David My suggestion is to start with the beginning. "Mister Squishy" showcases DFW's ability to evoke humor from banal events such as a focus group meeting.…moreMy suggestion is to start with the beginning. "Mister Squishy" showcases DFW's ability to evoke humor from banal events such as a focus group meeting. It is the second-longest story in the book. If you find yourself struggling to get through it, I suggest you set the book aside for the rest of the day and then read only a page or two per day after that. You might find that the depth and density of his prose begins to grow on you and you find your reading sessions stretching into the hours. (less)

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Start your review of Oblivion: Stories
Caution:- Long review ahead.

I finally understand what the word 'tedium' means. Interestingly enough I have neither associated this particular term with books making use of the much revered and equally feared stream-of-consciousness as a narrative device nor with hefty tomes worth more than 1000 pages.

But getting through even 1 page of DFW's writing requires a Herculean effort on the reader's part. Wallace commands your undivided attention and let's say if you are demanding the luxury of a split
Jan 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Oh boy. Oh man, do I have a lot to say about this here book. I can't even begin to tackle it as a whole entity, so I'm going to do a review of each story, unless I get tired and have to smoosh.

Also: I am the kind of person who listens to all my music on shuffle, which means I clearly have no respect for the artist's conception of a complete work. Consequently I read these stories totally out of order, and will review them the same way.

"The Suffering Channel" and "Mister Squishy"
I think these a
MJ Nicholls
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t think collections serve Foster Wallace well: it seems to me his stories would read better as stand-alones on some thoroughly modern internet webshite, with accompanying artwork or explanatory hyperlinks, rather than modishly festering on some fading acid paper alongside all the other fuddy-duddies. (PS Abacus, your paper is cheap and lousy). Case in point is ‘Mister Squishy,’ which seems to cry out for its own accompanying glossary, appended addenda and so on, but sits uneasily on the pa ...more
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
"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

Let me get my biases out in the open. I love DFW. I have to be careful somedays to not fall-down and worship his novels. Wallace's nonfiction talent also hits me as evidence that the universe is not even slightly fair. But, I've always been just a little unsettled (and occasionally f
Leo Robertson
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For we die every day; oblivion thrives
Not on dry thighbones but on blood-ripe lives,
And our best yesterdays are now foul piles
Of crumpled names, phone numbers and foxed files.

- from Nabokov's Pale Fire


Read this for the third time recently. It wasn't pleasant. Not to say the stories were affecting; it was just tedious. Part stories, part phonebook. Nuts!

It's asking more of a book than most people would, that it holds up on a third reading. Certainly parts of Mr Squishy, The Soul Is Not A
Scribble Orca
Aug 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing

Oblivion - consigned to, by some class act who deleted the pdf and the accompanying seven reviews and 103 ratings of Good Old Neon without the simple foresight to MERGE said pdf listing with the final collection (and for those of you who don't think it was sufficient as a standalone check out the Mighty Jumbuck's review of this listing) of join-the-dots-as-stories by DFW.

Read no further if you've read already (with apologies to the appreciated commenters who rest
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
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
If nothing else, this book really made me think. Maybe even over-think. This book invites it. There is a lot to mull over in each of these stories, and DFW is very rarely direct about anything, preferring to leave clues along the way.

I think it’s interesting that each story has its own specific vocabulary and/or verbal tics from Mister Squishy's ad agency lingo to Oblivion’s strange use of latin/pace/'air-quotes' to Suffering Channel’s magazine-speak; it’s almost as if the characters in one sto
Aug 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The unconscious paradox

Nobody would question David Foster Wallace’ talent: his ability to reinvent himself over and over in his fabulous essays and fiction, the extravagant ways in which his writing developed, the subconscious levels of his prose, the intricate craftsmanship that constitute the inner rhythmic quality of what we can call his style, the density that prevails, the chosen topics, the views of life, the engagement with a system he deplored, his ability to ironize, dissect, observe, a
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The best collection of short stories I've read, Oblivion is, in regards to what's on the surface, filled with stories about things which one would not think of as subjects to write stories about (not for publication at least). It is, of course, my own penchants that facilitate my extreme fondness for this ludic writer, but anyone who has read David Foster Wallace would at least concede that the guy was an original, an erudite chap penning claptrap who tells tales in ways no one else ever has. Wi ...more
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hello and welcome to the review of a reader who temporarily jumped ship halfway through Infinite Jest to explore the more accessible side of the Wallace catalogue. I found huge parts Infinite Jest maddening and repulsive while others to be shining with explosive prosaic genius, parts that made me understand the whole whiz-kid opus language around the book I thought for so long to be blown way out of proportion. This combination of repulsion and intrigue seems to be characteristic of Wallace's st ...more
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Might there ever be any questions you yourself wish to ask?”

“Consciousness is nature’s nightmare"

In the first two short stories DFW gave voice to the consequences born from living in the pressure cooker of boredom and routine. Following that was the theme of self-awareness and the powers it gives us along with the suffering that follows.


Challenges throughout the book ranged from having to keep track of three or more story lines at once to dealing with names like Ellen Bactrain. Is it pronoun
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable.

This is one of the eight portrayals of failure to communicate in the ‘Oblivion’ short fiction collection – which was the last of DFW’s published fiction in his lifetime. I have already posted a review of ‘The Soul is not a Smithy’ which is also from this collection, and in my opinion these two stories are the most outstanding.
Wallace uses the clinical, the theoretical, and the confessional style of narrative, and often all three, to home in
Nate D
May 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nate D by: Anne, again.
David Foster Wallace inspires many complaints -- he is overly self-conscious, he abuses the footnote, he is at times impenetrable -- but here happily, none of these are especially true. Even the post-modern playfulness is reigned in somewhat. Unlike the layered interviews and broken portraits of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, these are more properly stories (or even novellas, perhaps, as many are quite lengthy), winding and carefully plotted, and fully invested in the narrative. Only a singl ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
Author's note: review and rating both subject to change. I've already bumped it a star; the second will depend on what a rereading of the title story brings.

You know, I hate to say this about my favorite author, but a lot of this book is just kind of... boring. "The Suffering Channel" and "Oblivion" are the two problem children here, taking up about 130 pages of space; they desperately need the human touch Wallace applies to his distinct brand of experimental fiction. I get that they're transiti
Hannah Garden
Apr 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I've only got a few pages left of the last story in this collection and the whole thing has just been so excruciatingly beautiful I am almost palpably sad to see its end approach. That the guy whose mind from whence this sprung had to want to die so bad is just the worst the worst the worst.

Done. Buh. So sad.
Jul 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-fiction
“People Prefer Electric Shock to Thinking: Study” was the way they put it in the New York Post only a few days ago. Whether these click- and tenure-bait studies are worth the time and energy it takes read about them is an excellent question, but assuming that this particular one is, the world reaction could probably be divided into two categories: non-readers of DF Wallace, and readers of same. The former may have snorted derisively, rolled their eyes, or lamented (silently or aloud) the state o ...more
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
At this point, having reading Infinite Jest, and now Oblivion stories this year, I have to say that DFW is certainly my favorite writer. His writing is just so incredibly fun, fresh, bizarre, insightful and engaging. It almost never matters what he is writing about – he could describe the most banal thing in the world and he would make it both interesting and full of meaning. The word genius is likely one we have to use with DFW – though that does not mean that I don’t think that he is perfect, ...more
Dec 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
David Foster Wallace is a literary stylist, and one can dislike his style without denying the fact that he is an outstanding writer. While reading Oblivion, my opinion of this style was constantly switching. Sometimes I was reading something brilliant, transcendent, which in both language and perspective captured perfectly and beautifully the essence of his subject. However the greater part of the experience was one of pure tedium. Wallace does like to go on and on and on, about every minute det ...more
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Kind of a mixed bag. The first couple of stories--"Mr. Squishy" and "The Soul Is Not A Smithy"--felt like a bit of a chore, and I don't know that I really understood what Wallace was trying to get at in either of them. The book's title story was also underwhelming.

And yet, a mixed bag for Wallace is of a higher quality than what most writers produce at their best. "Good Old Neon" particularly was a profoundly affecting and evocative piece. I needed to go outside and have a smoke and go to sleep
Read: April-May 2019
DNF at 33%
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
4.5 Stars
Chris Gager
Jul 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Our local library is having a book sale and I picked this up yesterday along with a nice haul of others. Not that I'm in dire need of more books to read ... I started the first story, "Mr. Squishy," last night.

So much for "Mr. Squishy"(great title at least), which I sort of read last night. When I try to read something I can barely stand, if at all, I get angry. This story is very reminiscent of "Gravity's Rainbow" and "Underworld." The author is obviously very bright and knows a lot of stuff, a
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
The views expressed in this review are mine and do not represent those of the educated. I probably misinterpreted every story in Oblivion - but it's too late to get smarter now.

Mister Squishy - Read Mister Squishy whilst telling yourself this laborious exercise will be worthwhile, knowing full well you’re kidding yourself. Seriously, it was like reading html. I had Myspace flashbacks.

The Soul Is Not A Smithy -You know when you’re watching a film in the cinema and the last twenty minutes has been
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
A lovely collection of short stories that stumbles at first but ends up outstanding.

The first story, "Mister Squishy," is lackluster. It doesn't help that it retreads the same territory, stylistically (but not at all content-wise), as Infinite Jest, which made me concerned that Wallace was a one-trick pony. It is true that every story in this collection has vastly different subject matter in terms of plots and motifs, but what makes Wallace such an interesting writer is the style, and I was worr
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
In dialectic fashion, both a step forward from Brief Interviews, since DFW here got rid from most (most) of the linguistic showing-off which marred quite a few of the stories from that otherwise remarkable collection, and a step back, since he then began to show off by playing with millenia-honed readerly expectations regarding tension and resolution in narrative, this being, as far I as could see, this book's main point of existence (figure DFW would maybe write raison d'être, never backing awa ...more
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I get a little depressed after reading DFW books because I realize how far my writing skills fall short. This book is insanely dense and show-offy in the best sense (like when a magician draws attention to himself to fool you...then leaves you breathless after the bangs and flashes). This is a book of short stories, though some should technically be called novellas, each with totally implausible plots...until Wallace pulls it off. Faulknerian sentences were sort of his schtick in Infinite Jest-- ...more
Feb 21, 2008 rated it liked it

Very uneven, though I love DFW with a deep and abiding passion, it must be said that not all that glitters is necessarily gold...about half the stories are experimental airballs and the other half are uniquely powerful, beautiful and inimitable.

The Good:

Mister Squishy

Another Pioneer

The Soul Is Not A Smithy

The Bad:

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature


The Suffering Channel

Incarnations of Buried Children

The Amazing, Brilliant and Powerful:

Good Old Neon

I do treasure my copy, sinc
Aug 09, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I hardly made it to read two out of the eight stories. I really wonder how low should modern literature level be, so that writings like this be considered masterpieces . Wallace's writing style is quite different from what I personally think of as artistic- boring, pointless descriptions that fill pages and pages, sentences that can reach up to 15 lines, and NO ACTION AT ALL, not even a psychological approach of the characters, not even a pioneering idea or a contermporary questioning of the ame ...more
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: obtained-2015-bc
Oblivion--it is just the perfect title to unify these strange and maddening gems.
You could really lose yourself in this book, indefinitely, if you're not careful.
Recommended to readers of Postmodernism and Quiet Horror.
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David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything: novels, journalism, vacation. His life was an information hunt, collecting hows and whys. "I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today," he once said, "of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it fe ...more

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“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.” 351 likes
“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.”
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