Superfluous Matter
Books - Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

I thoroughly enjoyed Infinite Jest and ever since I've been on the lookout for more by DFW. Oblivion is a collection of eight short stories which have all the clever writing and run-on sentences of Infinite Jest but packaged up into much smaller and more manageable chunks. Not that they're any easier to read but being able to finish a story in a single sitting makes it a bit easier to wrap your head around it.

One day I want to re-read Infinite Jest but that day won't be coming any time soon. As an alternative I chose to read Oblivion through twice before moving on to my next book. The stories all seem to go in totally unexpected directions and knowing those shifts were coming helped inform my second reading. I was able to stop trying to see the shape of the story in my head and just enjoy the ride. Because the shapes, well they're not Euclidean.

The stories also leave loose ends hanging. It may be more accurate to say that they don't endeavour to tie up any ends at all and so everything is left open to speculation. The stories are satisfying, eventually, but they just...end. I was never ready for it. I suppose Infinite Jest was the same; I guess it's DFW's style. I see his works of fiction as not really stories but brief windows into interesting events with no beginning or end but just a fixed amount of time where those events may be observed. When a windows closes, things are done. And the length of time the window is open does not correspond to a traditional sense of completed narrative.

I won't go into any detail about any of the individual stories except to say that "Incarnations of Burned Children" was the most mind-breakingly frightening thing I've ever read. If you have children, probably don't read it OK? As for the rest, if you're thinking of tackling Infinite Jest but are not sure you want to make the investment then try those first. If no story makes you want to throw the book through the wall for it's abuse of what most people consider sensible fiction and you think you can tolerate a ten-fold increase in the quantity of such abuses, noting that the abuses of Oblivion are typical but by no means representative, then you just might enjoy DFW's magnum opus. Maybe.

I honestly don't think I'd recommend DFW to anyone in seriousness though. I hold my own enjoyment of them not with pride but more with some sort of weird shame. Because it's really just masochism. I can tolerate buckets of absurdity for tiny drops of magnificence or even just long pages of details about some obscure corner of human knowledge. I'm a bit strange.

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