This was a tough read -- it was so tempting to put it down and say, "no wonder the guy killed himself." However, it is worth finishing. For years, I aThis was a tough read -- it was so tempting to put it down and say, "no wonder the guy killed himself." However, it is worth finishing. For years, I avoided books like this figuring it to be smart-ass postmodern tripe, but I was wrong. He is not that at all, and with every story I read, I am more impressed (although I still prefer his essays to his fiction). These stories are bleak in a frantic way and I cannot quite pin down where they go wrong. Wallace had heart, and he could be very, very funny, but I think it possible he lacked a real sense of humor, or the ability to detect it in others... this is half-baked lit-crit and he deserves better.
Wallace inspires many complaints -- he is overly self-conscious, he abuses the footnote, he is at times impenetrable -- but here happily, none of these is especially true. Even the post-modern playfulness is reined in somewhat. Unlike the layered interviews and broken portraits of Good Old Neon, 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 single selection was notable mostly for style and structure (the frivolous but hilarious "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature", actually one of my favorites for its concise insanity), and most managed to grapple with enough serious content to put most entire novels to shame.
I am going to have to work backwards through Wallace's other short story collection, I think. Mr. Squishy and Incarnations of Burned Children is perhaps his culminating work, but he is abundantly more digestible in these smaller doses.
I cannot deny that this collection of short stories was a major struggle to read, even when it was compelling. Wallace writes as though he has an obsessive-compulsive disorder, constantly going over the same themes and sentences, and making often-trite observations from a multitudinous variety of angles. He never uses one word where three will do. Most writers use a thesaurus to find an alternative to a word, Wallace plagiarizes it.
I give the book 2.5 stars. Stories are hit (the one about the spiders, the one about the kids in the classroom, the guy who's a fraud) and miss (the one about the kid in the village, incarnations of burned children) and in between (Mr. Squishy, the title story about the snoring).
I think the author succeeds when his stories have some heart underneath the excessive and crazy details. Sometimes, too, he just needs to give us a few more paragraph breaks.
If you read just one, read the one about the spiders, though. It's called Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. That was my favorite. ...more
Everyone out there should read this book. I stumbled upon this book when I was doing some research about poor black women and how the government contrEveryone out there should read this book. I stumbled upon this book when I was doing some research about poor black women and how the government controls their homes, bodies and who stays with them in a home. ...more