David Foster Wallace's Hideous Men

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June 3 1999 10:25 AM

David Foster Wallace's Hideous Men

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Seth,

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I'll take your last comment at face value. I'll even throw it back in your face a little. So what should DFW's next book look like? You don't like cleverness for cleverness's sake (and few people do, though I should admit that I'm an exception). You're bored by his self-consciousness. But what should a clever and self-conscious writer do?

Here are my thoughts on the matter (not that you asked). I'd like to see DFW just get over himself. And if he can't genuinely get over himself, I'd like to see him do what most writers do, which is pretend to get over himself. The effect is the same. I'd like to see him write another novel like Broom of the System and Infinite Jest and get back to writing about characters instead of working out his own psychic pain and struggles with religion on the page.

Did you catch the priceless bit in "The Depressed Person" where the DP tries to "cultivate caring friendships and relationships in the community through church groups or nutrition and holistic stretching classes or community woodwind ensembles"? I'd like to see him write about the other people in that community woodwind ensemble. The folks who were just going for the love of medieval recorder music. Anything but more hideous men, himself included.

But before I close, I have to say a few more words on the whole religion thing. This book has a mission, which makes it pretty interesting as a document. I mean, when was the last time you read a young experimental writer who had anything but contempt or condescension for organized religion?

And for all his self-deprecating admissions of weakness, I think DFW's trying to do a very noble thing, and he's doing it in the best way he knows how. He's using his vivid writing to deliver a sermon with all the intensity of a fire-and-brimstone number in an attempt to open the reader's eyes to the horror of This World. And for all his ironic detachment, DFW is writing about something that is so anachronistically devoid of irony as to be nearly unmentionable in the universe of the book. I mean, at one point in "The Church Not Made With Hands," the character Sarah sneezes, and then her husband, Day waits for the nearby priest to "say it." DFW can't even come out and say "bless you" in print!

Anyhow, enough about God. Do you think this book is a blip in DFW's trajectory or does it mark the start of a new direction? Do you think he'll get over his current fixations? What's next?

Best,
Eliza

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Eliza Truitt is a staff writer at Slate. Seth Stevenson is a Newsweek correspondent in New York. This week they discuss David Foster Wallace's new collection of stories, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (click here to buy the book).

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