I am always either completely and hopelessly lost or almost spiritually engaged in the short fiction of David Foster Wallace. Over the course of the summer, I've read through two collections of these short stories. One is called Girl With Curious Hair, and the other, Oblivion. They all kind of melded together in my head, so I'm not sure which of the following are included in which book, and for that I apologize. That being said, here's a quick run-down of a few of the stories, how I felt in the end, and a little explanation:
"Little Expressionless Animals"
Here's the thing: in pieces, it's pretty moving, but I can't seem to connect the moving parts. It's a difficult plot to summarize in its entirety, even: Woman who knows every fact in the world (product of traumatic childhood) but hates animals and knows nothing about them (product of traumatic childhood) goes on Jeopardy! and wins every point in every game, except when the questions regard animals. Fosters romantic relationship with the show's (female (is that important?)) producer. Woman eventually loses to her severely autistic brother (source of trauma) in rigged game in which all questions are about animals. Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak feud for the duration.
The big catharsis (I think) comes when Julie (the contestant) explains to Faye (her lover) (I may have mixed them up...) that she hates animals because when she and her brother were abandoned as children in a field, the stood for hours, a cow staring at them, expressionless. She loathes the dead, nothingness of an animal's stare. But her pursuit of facts (granted, this is not really a conscious pursuit, more of an unconscious one) makes her just as "expressionless," but in an unnatural way.
The relevance of the fact that she's a lesbian? I have this feeling that her relationship is central, ("[Faye] thinks Julie is really a lesbian because she hates animals, somehow."] but it always feels like it's not.
"Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR"
At least by the end. For Wallace's weirder stuff, it's important to read and understand his essay on the humor in Kafka. In "LtARKCPR," a young accounts guy tries to save an older executive who's had a heart attack in a parking garage. It's late and the two men are alone. There's a very brief and brilliant passage about how and why the Account Rep knows CPR. And at the end you get a very engaging image of what it takes to be a human being in the modern world.
"Girl With Curious Hair"
Young Republican psychotic runs with punk nihilists. Chaos ensues. Funny at points? Sure. I suspect there isn't much to be got here. If there is, it's political, and it's way more obscure than my initial political analysis, which was essentially just that even radically different ideologies will find common ground in... well, in this case sex and violence, but not drugs. I don't know, complex. Or maybe not at all.
Brilliant because it makes Lyndon Johnson touching for the first 3/4 of the story and then Lady Bird fucking sinister as all hell in the closing pages, and you believe it. I think this is a more understandable political (kind of) piece.
Well... half and half. Hillbillies get drunk and tell the maybe tall tale of Chuck Nunn Jr., who has supposedly gone to "wrong the man that done wronged him," one T. Rex Minogue, who both dynamited a whole lot of Chuck's sheep and caused his (Chuck's) near fatal car accident. Long story short (no pseudo-pun intended) Chuck recovers from the accident but suffers from bouts of blind rage, and sometimes his eyes pop out of his head. In a blind rage he goes to kill T. Rex, but does not because T. Rex pops out his eyes and shows him the earth under his window and Chuck (apparently) has some kind of an epiphany. T. Rex, cancer ridden and wheelchair bound, comes to the bar where the story's being told (did I mention that the point of view is extremely difficult to discern, and characters kind of shape shift?), and then everybody except T. Rex levitates. The end. Have fun with that one.
"Here and There"
Inscribed to mathematician Kurt Godel, a story where the weird perspective works. All I'll say is that it's a treatment of modern language- how we use it, what it really is, and how it encompasses our lives.
"The Suffering Channel"
Totally lost. Poop, art, Style magazine, the midwest and Manhattan, and some apocalyptic TV channel that just shows people suffering. We learn a lot about the economics behind all of these things. Totally, totally lost. The poop ends up on the The suffering channel. Art is shit but it's art because we suffer? Again, lost. Forget it. I hate trying to shake the feeling that it's way, way more complicated than that, because I know it is.
On a final note, I read Stephen King's Salem's Lot and I liked it. The terror was a little drawn out, and the end wasn't as scary as I thought it'd be (though the epilogue was cool), but Stephen King is a good writer, god dammit. And the book is about small towns, not really vampires. He has some lines about how small towns are preternaturally evil, that they hold all this evil inside of them, that they know secrets not even the holders of the secrets know. Yeah, yeah, all that typical S. King abstraction about big old scary Maine, but it rang true for some reason. I grew up in a suburb of Boston, and it remains a pretty creepy place. Even the comforts of it are creepy now. It eats people.
David Foster Wallace (9.2/10) is a much better writer, But I don't think Stephen King (6.8/10) would argue that point, and I respect that.