Another set of independent pieces behind a single cover. How do you review? I'll just react.
I started reading this book after making it about 70 pages into Infinite Jest for the second time. I couldn't break past the static friction of the thing, which didn't quite make sense to me given (1) DFW is renowned by people I respect and (2) I've gotten sucked in by many of his in-person interviews and speeches (e.g. through digging holes in YouTube). He's smart, interesting, and capable. Why don't I get this supposed and heavy-as-a Bible then? Why can't I find it interesting? It -- Infinite Jest -- never seemed to get started. All the digression and verbose description seemed pointless and indulgent when held up against what felt like was going toward being a non-story. It was like: here's all these images. Hope you like them! The end... So what did I do: I Googled it. What am I missing? Some post on Quora suggested that before attempting the monolith, a prospect DFW fan should first read this collection, Girl With Curious Hair. Slowly wade into Mr. Wallace's works. I took the advice and was blown away.
He leaves you stunned with these laser-precise yet delicate and relate-able descriptions of culture and what it means to be human, and they're simultaneously strongly opinionated and prophetic. He takes a stand that turns out to be observably accurate. What I mean by that is, it's hard to find holes in what he says and it's hard to reflect on where exactly you're suspending your own disbelief, even though so much of the work is obviously incredible. e.g. LBJ wasn't gay. He's so smart, it leaves me intimidated to say anything other than that fact that I was so impressed. In any case, since it's my party here, I'll try anyway:
First, the frustration: sometimes I wonder if he's trying to be too smart for his own good. Does Westward The Course... actually tie up nicely and say anything at all? It might underneath the tangled knots of recursive structure, the heaps of 100 dollar words, the bouncing back and forth between painfully illustrated scene and -- ironically? -- self-aware explanation. You get the impression that it might be a parody of meta-fiction. A story about a story about a story about a... Take it seriously, make it to the end, and DFW proves his point: you're jerking yourself off. Quit it and say something relatable, inspirational. But that seems too continent an explanation for me. More likely I'm either too dumb to get the joke or too dumb to understand the sophistication. e.g. I'm interested in an explanation of post-modernism and advertising and religion, the story seems to involve these themes, and I don't know what the fuck happened in this "story". His fault or mine?
There's also a tad too much of everyone seems to be a writer in his stories, both explicitly with characters that are actually writers or more generally academics, and implicitly with janitors that happen to have read all of Dostoyevsky and would love to tell you about him and his opinions on metaphysics if they weren't having their neck breathed down by a boss about those stale urinal cakes.
But every other story in the group was a 10. The title story was my favorite. It's so brutal. It reminds me of Blue Velvet. I'm an engineer by education and trade. Am I allowed to compare things to David Lynch or does that get eyes rolling? A digression: I feel like I've picked up the scent of an art-student cliche I was never inoculated against. Or maybe that thought itself is some self-imposed everything-is-absurd opinion worthy of Mr. Wallace's reputation for criticizing. Shrug. It reminded me of the fucking movie, and they both gave me the creeps in revealing, interesting, worthy way.
The Jeopardy story too. Ouff, I feel like just hearing someone take a stance on what make another person gay, or sexual, or attract-ive/-ed is so risky it has to be interesting. And further the way he dissects the interaction between people. "Say the whole point of love is to try to get your fingers through the holes in the lover’s mask. To get some kind of hold on the mask, and who cares how you do it." Jesus, that's perfectly concise, affecting, important, defining. Going further to the despair of thinking you've found out that people's masks don't actually have holes. Truth or solipsistic delusion? What a heady fucking question.
The LBJ story. "Never elaborate". When I read Hemingway, I know I'm reading Hemingway. And so Gregory poured the vermouth and then he drank the vermouth and the vermouth was was good. But with DFW, he seems to be able to put on completely different hats at will. There's definitely a garnish of a consistence on top of it all, but you get the feeling he's in control. That sort of redeems Westward The Course... for me. Back to that, yea: it seems possible he did what he did on purpose or maybe that it wasn't meant for readers. Maybe it was just an exercise or for fun.
Anyway, go read Girl with Curious Hair.