Oblivion: Stories Hardcover – Jun 8 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
In his best work, Infinite Jest, Wallace leavened his smartest-boy-in-class style, perfected in his essays and short stories, with a stereoscopic reproduction of other voices. Wallace's trademark, however, is an officious specificity, typical of the Grade A student overreaching: shifting levels of microscopic detail and self-reflection. This collection of eight stories highlights both the power and the weakness of these idiosyncrasies. The best story in the book, "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature," assembles a typical Wallaceian absurdity: a paroled, autodidactic arachnophile accompanies his mother, the victim of plastic surgery malpractice ("the cosmetic surgeon botched it and did something to the musculature of her face which caused her to look insanely frightened at all times"), on a bus ride to a lawyer's office. "The Suffering Channel" moves from the grotesque to the gross-out, as a journalist for Style (a celebrity magazine) pursues a story about a man whose excrement comes out as sculpture. The title story, about a man and wife driven to visit a sleep clinic, is narrated by the husband, who soon reveals himself to be the tedious idiot his father-in-law takes him for. While this collection may please Wallace's most rabid fans, others will be disappointed that a writer of so much talent seems content, this time around, to retreat into a set of his most overused stylistic quirks.
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An all-male focus group convenes in a Chicago office building to sample a new form of junk food under the omnivorous eyes of a psychotic statistician, while on the street a crowd gathers to watch a possibly armed man scale the glass tower. A journalist investigates an Indiana man who makes art out of his "miraculous poo." A couple goes to a sleep clinic to resolve a snoring conflict. So it goes in Wallace's first short-story collection in five years, a high-wire performance by the star of kinetically cerebral fiction. As questing a philosopher (his last book, Everything and More [BKL O 15 03], is a history of infinity) as he is a canny storyteller, the author of Infinite Jest (1996) fashions complex tales rife with shrewd metaphysical inquiries, eviscerating social critiques, and twisted humor. Profoundly intrigued with the paradoxes of being, the haphazard forging of the self, and the relentless cascade of consciousness, he has one of his obsessed narrators bemoan language's inability to convey the psyche's wildness, yet Wallace's torrential prose comes awfully close. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
These are sentences that defy easy categorization - sensational amalgams of disparate thoughts and hidden meaning. These are sentences that push the boundaries of both style and length, wherein the format itself is as important as the content.
When they work, the result is breathtaking in its audacity and verve. With sentences as perfect as "the angle of his shoulders as he leaned into the door had the same quality of his eyes," Wallace truly earns the accolades he had accumulated.
Be forewarned: reading Wallace can be exhausting. He makes you work. And in Oblivion, his uneven collection of short stories, the rampaging prose overwhelms everything else in its path.
Wallace is in the higher ranks of modern writers, often mentioned in the same breath with postmodernist icons Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. His award-winning prose, most vibrantly on display in his mountainous bestseller Infinite Jest, takes modernist techniques to their most extreme, threading themes and motifs in an artificially self-conscious style that is now Wallace's trademark.
With Oblivion, Wallace presents a bewildering display of bizarre narratives, each notable for never once treading familiar roads. A boy daydreams his father's existence while a teacher slowly goes insane. A man recounts his suicide. A husband goes to great lengths to prove he does not snore.
In the very funny "The Suffering Channel", Wallace tackles "the paradoxical intercourse of audience and celebrity.Read more ›
I may be totally wrong in my theoretical problem with Oblivion; given the extreme level of reader interest and cooperation that DFW's stories and novels require, I can't be certain that I'm not just one of the other dufuses who just plain DONT GET HIM. I have tried, however, and am proud to place Infinite Jest in my top ten favorite novels list (I actually read that monster twice! Woof!)
So here goes: my theory is that the most fundamental "Jest" in Infinite Jest is the lack of resolution of the story and the myriad plotlines. If you manage to plow through the dense but enjoyable prose, you are actually pretty engaged in the plights of the dozen or so demi-protagonists, and actively speculating to yourself what the resolution will be. DFW actively encourages this, to the extent that ultimate denoument for Hal, Don and the Veiled lady is denied; in other words, you have to actively put the non-chronological pieces of the puzzle together in your mind, because it ain't spelled out for you in the manner that most of us (quite reasonably) expect from thier fiction. The joke, in other words, is on the reader, because the reader has to actively participate in the conclusion of the story in order to "get it;" and in the end, there is no difinitve answer to the question "What the hell actually happend to...?" so the jest is effectively infinite.
Ugh, I know, that's a chewy mouthful of an opening paragraph, but I'll wrap this up quickly. Oblivion uses this device so frequently in the short stories that it inspires frustration, rather than awe at the author's story-telling acumen.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Oblivion: Stories (Purchased on 02/28/2011)
by David Foster Wallace
I bought this book online and it has never arrived as of one month later.
This book works well with stupid people who like feeling smart by reading things they cannot comprehend. Read morePublished on July 11 2004
i'm a big david foster wallace fan and have read all of his other works. this one is my favorite so far (in a very tight race with Infinte Jest). Read morePublished on July 4 2004 by Karin S. Chenowith
I haven't read this book yet either---but I work in a library and I'm 1st on the HOLD List whenever they get the dang title processed. Read morePublished on June 30 2004 by Bob Sawatzki
If you think Mr. Squishy is "tedious and goes nowhere," you are just not going to enjoy this book. Read morePublished on June 15 2004 by A Partisan Wallace-Fan
There are some writers who it becomes fashionable to read and then, when they become too popular or widely praised, fashionable to put down. Read morePublished on June 4 2004 by Gulley Jimson
Infinite Jest is an occasionally really good book and A Supposedly Fun Thing has two very great pieces and one story in Hideous Men (Forever Overhead) is just simply a little... Read morePublished on June 3 2004
Wallace has always written with the intention of trying to impress. His stories here are good, not great. Read morePublished on June 3 2004 by W. P. Strange
There are writers who engage almost solely a reader's intellect. There are also writers who engage almost solely a reader's possibility for emotional response (of course these... Read morePublished on June 2 2004