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 SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved