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by David Foster Wallace

Pub Date: May 28th, 1999
ISBN: 0-316-92541-1
Publisher: Little, Brown

A stimulating, if intermittently opaque, collection of discursive stories and even less fully fictionalized humorous pieces from the savvy-surrealistic author of Infinite Jest (1996), etc. Though few of the tales here contain conventionally developed characters or narrative situations, most feature instantly recognizable generic figures. Embattled parents and siblings dominate such eerie concoctions as “Signifying Nothing,” in which a primal scene perhaps expressing male dominance has a lasting effect on a son’s relationship with his father; and a powerfully imaginative torrent of Oedipal rivalry spoken “On his Deathbed . . . [by] the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father . . . ,” “The Depressed Person” blandly skewers the culture of self-absorption and psychotherapy (while neatly mocking the latter’s passion for clinical precision), and “Datum Centurio” gets impressive comic mileage out of its brief parody of an etymological dictionary entry. Sex rears its comely, come-hither head in the chronicling (in “Forever Overhead—) of the perplexing sensations of adolescence in full eruption, and particularly in “Adult World,” a deliriously expanding Robert Coover—like fantasy spun from a young wife’s fretful confusion about pleasing-vs.- offending her docile husband. Most interesting are the title “stories,” divided into four installments scattered throughout, and variously delineating men’s alienation from, and misunderstanding of, women: the amputee who considers his mutilated arm a “Sexual Asset”; the self-consciousness of a hotel men’s-room attendant (wreathed in “The ghastly metastasized odors of continental breakfasts and business dinners”); the loves of Tristan and Isolde and Narcissus and Echo reshaped for the cable-TV audience by network executive “Agon M. Nar.” Postadolescent whimsy mingled with postmodernist horseplay: this isn’t a book that can be consumed in sizable chunks. Still, Wallace is a witty guide to the fragmented, paranoid Way We Live Now, someone perhaps poised to become the 21st-century’s Robert Benchley or James Thurber—both a frightening and a beguiling prospect.