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Infinite Joe

I like challenging books that make you think, and leave you happy that you did. Typically, I find character driven literary fiction the most satisfying, although I in no way think of myself as a serious literary critic.

Currently reading

Unaccustomed Earth
Jhumpa Lahiri
Progress: 282/333 pages

Oblivion: Stories

Oblivion - David Foster Wallace I don't think I could ever fully articulate why I enjoy reading David Foster Wallace so much. Some of it has to do with the topics he writes about, some of it with the various and often deeply personal themes that are present in his writing. A little of it has to do with the structure of his individual works, or sometimes (or often) the lack thereof, and broken down more, I find myself drawn to his long and flowing and rambling and meandering and yet somehow essential sentence structure. Basically, he writes like nothing I've ever read before, and it's stimulating and satisfying, and just plain entertaining. That's how I feel about the novels of his that I've read so far, the compilations of essays that I've enjoyed, and now this collection of short stories.

I found Mister Squishy to be a weird (gratifyingly so) story about the structure and ethics of market research and focus groups, the desire of industry and individuals to one-up each other by using increasingly outrageous tactics, and of personal disappointment when you realize that your youthful dreams of making it big have petered out into a mid-level position, being a corporate pawn, and having a job that you know will eventually be outsourced or eliminated.

The Soul Is Not A Smithy was another odd story involving a daydreaming student who becomes a witness to violence while peripherally experiencing a substitute teacher having a mental breakdown.

Incarnation of Burned Children was simply horrifying, a sensation that seemed to be even more heightened by the story's brevity. It’s one of those stories that brand themselves into your mind.

Another Pioneer is parable-like story about a child in a remote jungle village who has unbelievable wisdom and knowledge and can answer any question. Although initially used for the betterment of his village, he eventually becomes misused, resulting in steady deterioration of all around him. I kind of reminded me of the relationship between science and politics.

Good Old Neon was the best story in the collection. It's a striking, deep, and serious story about a man who feels that he is personally a fraud, fraudulent in everything he does, and it so pervades his thoughts that it brings him careening towards suicide. Anyone who is self-aware and honest about his interactions with others, and the motivations behind why he does things, has experienced this feeling of fraudulence at one time or another. It's part of human interaction, but the character sees it as inhuman, which compounds his tragic struggle. It made me wonder too just how much of this story could have been autobiographical for the author.

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was, in a word, hilarious. No further comment needed.

Oblivion was probably my 3rd favorite. A good story, with a bit of a tricky twist. I had to search the internet for a thorough synopsis of this story, to make sure I got it correct, which it turns out I very closely did.

Finally, The Suffering Channel, which was the longest story in this book, was my 2nd favorite. It was thoroughly funny, and very similar in style and substance to Infinite Jest and The Pale King. DFW probably could have made a full length novel out of this one, which was about the present state of media and journalism, and the direction it seems to be going in, namely pushing the envelope in two different directions: inane silliness versus the revealing of (what should be) deeply private moments (e.g. suffering).

I know there are additional layers beyond what I am getting out of DFW's works, ones that I would maybe get after a second or third reading, or maybe not at all, but it doesn't mean that I don't completely enjoy them as fully as I'm able to experience them.