I’ll start with a preamble, I really like David Foster Wallace’s work, and Infinite Jest might just be my all-time favorite book. I love post-modern writing, not everyone’s preferred cup of tea I know, but give me a fragmented non-linear narrative and I will gleefully jump in. So this is almost hand crafted for me, and yet I am forced to admit that I didn’t care for it all that much.
The structure of the book is a collection of non-related short stories, inter-cut by the eponymous short interviews. Almost all the interviews (and most of the short stories) deal with sex. Some of them graphically, be forewarned. The interviewer is female, an academic of some sort, maybe psychology, maybe anthropology, but whatever her field she is never heard from. From the readers point of view all interviews are one sided, we never get to “hear” her questions, only the men’s answers, and are thus forced to try and infer from them what might have been asked.
As the title implies most of these men are indeed terrible (though some of them are probably only “hideous” when viewed through the prism of DFW’s grad student sensibilities), as is their treatment of women. Which I suspect was sort of the point. DFW is known for his dislike of John Updike and in particular the Updike-ian archetype. I.e. male, white, educated, usually middle aged who is obsessed with sex and is at his core a narcissist. The men in brief interviews are how DFW sees Updike’s characters and in extension Updike himself. This book is a moral sermon of sorts, which explains why I didn’t really like it, me personally, I have little patience for proselytizing. But hey, to each his own.
That’s not to say the book isn’t good, there are some truly amazing sequences that show case just how truly brilliant DFW was, it’s just a shame the book is so bleak. Infinite Jest for all that it was a ridiculously long and dense book (I could barely get through 30 pages a day), was so much more optimistic, there was hope there, faith even. This book feels nihilistic in comparison.
It’s hard to recommend a book I disliked, on the one hand it is very good (if a bit uneven), some of the prose is mind blowing in both its complexity and at the same time elegant fluidity. But on the other hand don’t expect to finish book in a good mood. I guess if you are a fan of DFW then you have to read this book, but if you are not, then well, maybe this isn’t the right book of his to start with.
there is a movie version of the book, it is awful, don’t bother with it.