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Oblivion: Stories [Hardcover]

David Foster Wallace
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 8 2004
In the stories that make up Oblivion, David Foster Wallace joins the rawest, most naked humanity with the infinite involutions of self-consciousness--a combination that is dazzlingly, uniquely his. These are worlds undreamt-of by any other mind. Only David Foster Wallace could convey a father's desperate loneliness by way of his son's daydreaming through a teacher's homicidal breakdown ("The Soul Is Not a Smithy"). Or could explore the deepest and most hilarious aspects of creativity by delineating the office politics surrounding a magazine profile of an artist who produces miniature sculptures in an anatomically inconceivable way ("The Suffering Channel"). Or capture the ache of love's breakdown in the painfully polite apologies of a man who believes his wife is hallucinating the sound of his snoring ("Oblivion"). Each of these stories is a complete world, as fully imagined as most entire novels, at once preposterously surreal and painfully immediate.

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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wallace lets loose the dogs of war July 14 2004
Format:Hardcover
The sentence is possibly the most basic grammatical tool used by writers, a standard format by which information is conveyed to a reader. But there are sentences, and there are SENTENCES, and American author David Foster Wallace most indeed writes SENTENCES.
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Is it just me, or... July 16 2004
Format:Hardcover
... do others see an unfortunate emerging stagger in David Foster Wallace's experiments in free-wheeling prose?
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars An Acquired Taste July 9 2004
By Grady Harp TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
David Foster Wallace is a unique writer and has developed a following who seem enchanted with the emperor's new clothes. That is in no way a put-down: there are many writers who have a style of writing that appeals to certain readers and not others, and that does not discount those writers' gifts. For example, there are many readers who have yet to wade through all the volumes of Marcel Proust's "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time)," or have struggled through James Joyce's "Ulysses" or "Finnegan's Wake" , or have been frustrated with TS Eliot's phrasing, Virginia Wolff's and Gertrude Stein's styles, etc. My frustration with reading David Foster Wallace in general, and OBLIVION in particular, is that it all seems so self indulgent. Yes, we all love to be challenged into following thought lines that meander for pages, sometimes as a single sentence, if the thought pursued is additive. Wallace is obviously bright and is most assuredly clever and can write hilarious insights into the foibles of living in 2004. Some of these stories are uncommonly terse and complete: "Incarnations of Burned Children" is a masterpiece of short story development in a matter of a few dense pages. But for the most part, for this reader, Wallace puts us on a roller coaster ride that feels more like an intellectual sideshow gag than one concerned with a story. "Mister Squishy" is more a novella that just doesn't seem to know how to get where it wants to go. Yes, a healthy dollop of patience and indulgence and extended periods of time will uncover some excellent wordsmithing, but Wallace is an acquired taste. I just haven't acquired it.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Book Never Arrived
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.
John Thomas
Published on April 1 2011 by John Thomas
1.0 out of 5 stars More Infinite Crap
This book works well with stupid people who like feeling smart by reading things they cannot comprehend. Read more
Published on July 11 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely amazing
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 more
Published on July 4 2004 by Karin S. Chenowith
4.0 out of 5 stars I Haven't Read It Either--But That's Not The Point Is It?
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 more
Published on June 30 2004 by Bob Sawatzki
4.0 out of 5 stars Much Better Than Brief Interviews and Girl w Curious Hair
If you think Mr. Squishy is "tedious and goes nowhere," you are just not going to enjoy this book. Read more
Published on June 15 2004 by A Partisan Wallace-Fan
4.0 out of 5 stars Calm down, people
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 more
Published on June 4 2004 by Gulley Jimson
2.0 out of 5 stars B minus
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 more
Published on June 3 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Keep a dictionary handy
Wallace has always written with the intention of trying to impress. His stories here are good, not great. Read more
Published on June 3 2004 by W. P. Strange
2.0 out of 5 stars More of the same
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 more
Published on June 2 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Let's hope its not five more years
I had read the majority of these pieces in Esquire, Agni, McSweeney's, and Conjuctions, and was somewhat dissapointed that I would only have a few left over to read. Read more
Published on May 31 2004
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