(3 books down! Hoping to have a fourth by Friday!)
If you read the book blogs on the websites for the New York Times or NPR, you’ll notice a disposition amongst the bloggers for books that don’t exactly appeal to the general public. Much like Pitchfork and its desire to promote bands the likes of which could have never showed up on your radar without their help, these bloggers like to pick authors completely invisible in the public eye and trumpet them as the greatest writers of all time while defaming those who near the beaten path of notoriety.
David Foster Wallace is one of those authors who probably ended up in these review columns (and subsequent blogs, when the internet got bigger), but who died (suicide) before anyone could throw him under the bus. How so? Because people are still trumpeting his greatness, and I’m beginning to see why.
I was first introduced to Wallace through a friend and a used copy of some of his short stores (the blog title volume, Girl With Curious Hair), but he really made an impression on me with his commencement speech at Kenyon College. He demonstrated the understanding of a man wise beyond his years, or at least someone who has taken of his rose-colored glasses and understood that the world was, well, rose-colored. Since then, I’ve taken a great liking to Wallace.
Not so much, however, with Girl With Curious Hair.
Before you jump all over me for this one (you hipster, you), I don’t want to say that the collection is bad, or that I didn’t enjoy my readings (I did) or get something out of them (I did). I just found that Wallace’s style of writing is often something you’re more likely to, well, slog through rather than walk through. Depending on what he’s trying to communicate, whether it’s a Vietnam veteran gone mad with revenge, or a couple discussing what made their relationship fall apart, Wallace may favor writing in a native dialect (the Vietnam vet), or in conversation (the couple). As one should expect, no two of the stories in Girl With Curious Hair have the same style at all, and they aren’t supposed to. Be warned, though, that this can make his writing difficult to follow. This is why I’m lumping him in with the popular writers that the NY Times reviews; he’s very different, and I would definitely say an acquired taste.
The two stories I mentioned (titled “John Billy” and “Here and There” respectively) were the ones I enjoyed the most. “John Billy” utilizes a sort of Oklahoma-redneck dialect, making for a very humorous and interesting story of a football star’s success in his hometown as a sheep farmer and subsequent desire for revenge against the man who derails his life. “Here and there” is the story of a couple in dialogue with each other (and I think a third party) about where their relationship went wrong. This one resonated a little with me, giving me pause to reflect on previous relationships (not for extended periods or anything) and how I can work differently at my marriage sometimes.
One thing I’m noticing from Wallace devotees is that this is NOT the place to start with Wallace. In fact, several bloggers and columnists list Girl With Curious Hair as their least favorite of Wallace’s work, and don’t recommend starting with it (Consider the Lobster comes up as the go-to, followed by Infinite Jest). All the same, I’m not disappointed I read this, though it will also require revisiting once I’ve read some more of his work and adapt to his myriad styles.