Monday, January 05, 2009

Genius, Gone

Years ago, I reviewed a collection of short stories for the Austin Chronicle. It was called Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, and in the advance proof stage I had it, the artifact itself was none too impressive.

But inside, so much was happening. Though the subject matter of the pieces was a bit discomfiting, even squirm-inducing, perhaps I can go so far as to say nearly unbearable, there was no mistaking that a writer of some peculiar and astounding intellect was at the helm.

That writer, David Foster Wallace, committed suicide on September 12th of this year, and his departure of this world at the tragic age of 46 leaves a gaping hole in modern fiction.

Check out this fantastic article from the NY Times on Wallace's philosophical past, an enjoyable examination of the author's undergrad honors thesis in philosophy.

I've just finished reading his first novel, The Broom of the System. This is quite a book. To be honest, I can't say that I loved reading it, but neither can I stop thinking about it. A set of narrative threads that weave and dance and brawl alongside each other until they all eventually collide, the work to be done at the end, to tie it all together and leave the unbelievable legitimate, was perhaps a bit much to accomplish.

Of course it was not accomplished, not tidied and bowed, which is to be expected, but the contortions undertaken to get to the end left me cold, and even a bit upset. Characters who were enjoyable become unbearable, those at the center of the action do not overcome anything. It was an amazing ride and an ultimately frustrating book, but even so, I can't wait to read more.

Thinking back to Brief Interviews, I'm reminded of this same feeling then. So much promise, so many glimpses of remarkable writing, so many moments of readerly bliss, that to be unfulfilled at the end, to have nearly as many reasons to grind teeth as to sing praises, is confusing. But then that is likely the sign of true talent. He's not making it easy. And neither should he.

Wallace's body of work is not large. All too soon I'll exhaust what he's written, and that, I predict, will be the most frustrating thing of all.

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