Skip to main content
  1. Arts & Entertainment
  2. Books

Flirting with cessation

See also

the Oblivion collection

Rating:
Star4
Star
Star
Star
Star

The densely packed fictions of David Foster Wallace read more like excruciating vignettes than short stories, although his occasional flights of lyricism in Oblivion reminds those who enjoy grinding through highbrow challenges that we are indeed embarked on a literary exercise.

Published in 2004, four years before the author’s suicide generated scrounging online investigations, memoirs, tributes, and in some cases, anger, Oblivion consists of eight tales, varying in degrees of linguistic intricacy.

The most pleasurable in its humor is “Mr. Squishy,” a story about a focus group, a junk food retailer perhaps deliberately reminiscent of Tastykake, and the less than comfortable romantic inclinations of statisticians. Wallace’s hilarious attack on media sensationalism embedded in the story is a motif which loosely links the entire collection together.

“The Soul is Not a Smithy,” a small masterpiece of its kind, is nearly indescribable, but was written for those of Wallace’s generation, slightly too young to protest or defend the Vietnam War, but old enough to carry the guilt right up through the aging and death of baby boomer counterculture. Wallace displays a mastery of time shift and emphasis which almost incites the envy of lesser writers.

Almost, however, is the operative word. The post modern juxtapositions Wallace utilizes doesn’t always work, and come off as maudlin, perhaps self-pitying. In “Good Old Neon,” Wallace tackles the narcissism of suicidal suffering directly, and his self-references are nearly indistinguishable from a real cry for help when he writes “David Wallace had back then imagined as happy and unreflective.” It is almost too laden with a sense of suffocation. The protagonist here commits suicide in a head on collision, rather than Wallace’s real life hanging, which was indubitably cruel to his spouse.

The only thing left to do with Wallace’s legacy is canonize it or eschew it. When the literary life becomes an elective religion for those of us in the end who find we have no choice, this is an ambivalent balance beam from which to leap.

Advertisement

Arts & Entertainment

  • Jack White
    Watch as Jack White covers Jay Z at the Forecastle Music Festival
    Headlines
  • Jay Z and Beyonce
    See how the rumors about Jay Z and Beyoncé splitting up came about
    Video
    Celebrity Buzz
  • Comic-Con
    San Diego Comic-Con 2014 exclusives: Entertainment Earth
    Camera
    20 Photos
  • Paul McCartney
    Take an exclusive look at Paul McCartney's soundcheck before a recent show
    Camera
    20 Photos
  • Katy Perry
    Watch Katy Perry transform from pop princess to one of the world's hottest women
    Camera
    19 Photos
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman
    Find out why Philip Seymour Hoffman left his children out of his will
    Video
    Today's Buzz