Back-of-the-box blurb: David Foster Wallace made an art of taking readers into places no other writer even gets near. In this exuberantly acclaimed collection he combined hilarity and an escalating disquiet in stories that astonish, entertain, and expand our ideas of the pleasures that fiction can afford.
She is Too Fond of Books’ thoughts: David Foster Wallace was perhaps best known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest; he had a previously published novel (The Broom of the System, 1987), and three collections of shorts stories, including Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1996). Brief Interviews was republished in audio format after his death by suicide in late 2008.
I haven’t yet read (print format) any of his work, although Infinite Jest has been on my wish list for several years (so many books, so little time!). When I was offered the opportunity to review this audio, it seemed like a winning combination – an author I was curious about, short stories (a favorite genre), and audio (my exercise motivator).
Was it the winning combination I expected? Did it motivate me to return to the treadmill day after day?
I was definitely kept on my toes while listening to this; two of the stories were very difficult to listen to – violent, assaulting women physically and mentally. However, one of these redeemed itself in a brilliant way, proving that things are not always as they appear; the second difficult tale (the last on the CDs) became unbearable, and I didn’t finish it.
Then, there were stories that I did enjoy. One (and, I’m sorry, but I don’t remember the name of it, and there’s not a list of stories on the CD set or online, that I could find), was a man, grown now, telling about his adolescent fantasty. He lived in a Communist state, and his mother and brother often exercised at a state-run gymnasium; he preferred to sit in a corner and read. In his fantasy, he could stop time (a la the American television show “Bewitched,” simply by waving his hand, complete with the tinkling bells that accompanied Samantha’s magical hand-waving on TV), have his pick of women in the gymnasium (always “gymnasium” not “gym”, and you have to imagine it in a heavy Soviet accent), and they would, well, indulge each other. The tale becomes more and more funny (odd? bizarre? extreme?) as the narrator realizes various flaws in his fantasy, and it becomes more and more elaborate as he devises solutions to compensate for these flaws. Trust me, it’s entertaining.
Another story I liked was the tale of a young boy on his 13th birthday, contemplating the tall ladder to the high dive at the local swimming pool. David Foster Wallace put an entire short story into that climb up the ladder; I felt every drop of water, every steel rung, and every thought (and second thought) running through the narrator’s mind.
In between the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” were stories I tolerated. I listened to them to get a better sense of the author’s talents, and to enjoy the narration by the various readers. John Krasinski narrates several of the stories; it was difficult to separate Jim from “The Office” from his distinct voice at times, but I liked the familiarity of it. Interestingly, Krasinski directed a movie of the same name, based on this collection. It was in a limited release last fall (have you seen it?)
Although I won’t give an enthusiastic push to this collection, I will say that my curiosity is piqued enough to move Infinite Jest further up my wish list; I’d really like to read his full-length novel before I pass judgement on the author. Or maybe my tastes simply aren’t sophisticated enough for his style?
FTC disclosure: review copy provided by the publisher. I listened to it several months ago (perhaps, in fact, prior to the “full disclosure” mandate), but I’ve only now been able to wrap my head around the audio in a nearly sufficient way to give this wishy-washy review. Is there a time limit on my true confessions to you? [yes, by the way, this is the type of rambling ... seemingly pointless, but actually very pointed ... that I found in the audio.]