First published:- 1999
Read in:- April, 2014
To call these meanderings and sub-meanderings of a brilliant mind short stories, will be akin to putting a leash on DFW's creativity with the aid of conventional terminologies and thereby undervaluing the sheer inventiveness on display in this compelling collection.
In course of my limited venturings into DFW's literary landscapes I have arrived at one crucial inference. That to read DFW is to transgress the very act of simply reading through and discover a newer way to commune with his chain of thoughts, to work your grey matter just a tad bit harder to truly grasp what he has intended for you to understand. And that's an exercise I am all too happy to engage in especially if it sharpens my senses and compels me to achieve a state of oneness with the narrative without sparing a second thought to any of my other parallel reads.
Reading him is like being given the unique opportunity to listen in on one of the greatest minds that ever existed speaking from some imaginary podium and letting that same mind direct my own to follow pathways that it didn't even know existed. It's like making yourself a part of the virtual reality he has recreated through his words and believing in the truth of it without trying to compartmentalize his writing.
Hideous men (and, occasionally, women) and the alarmingly convoluted inner workings of their still hideous minds string this collection together. Some of the 'short stories' are mere snapshots of eponymous interviews of seemingly disturbed individuals, ranging from hippie youths who have devised Machiavellian plans to seduce and subsequently ditch women with psychopathic precision to adolescents with elaborate masturbation fantasies creepy enough to make you involuntarily shudder, while some are little snippets which merely detail the secret inner lives of certain individuals which always remain carefully concealed behind an ingeniously orchestrated charade. Add some metafictional commentary inserted sporadically as footnotes of considerable length, in several of which the author even challenges the potential reader to weird pop quizzes, and you have a hazy idea of what this collection has to offer. But even so, I probably haven't even grazed the tip of the iceberg of DFW's gift for redefining narrative structures.
Given that I am accustomed to more or less linear narratives, consisting of immaculately crafted sentences which put more emphasis on superficiality of actions and emotions, it is a bit of a surprise to find myself being drawn to a writer who sought to expose the raw core of every pretension. Sometimes while reading I was even tempted to flip a coin to decide whether he was being ironic or simply acknowledging some disturbing reality in a matter-of-fact tone.
"He ruled from that crib, ruled from the first. Ruled her, reduced and remade her. Even as an infant the power he wielded! I learned the bottomless greed of him. Of my son. Of arrogance past imagining. The regal greed and thoughtless disorder and mindless cruelty - the literal thoughtlessness of him."
The man's perspicacity is so palpable in everything he writes and his sincere attempts at perfect reconstruction of thought processes and the true motivations at work behind every human gesture so obvious, that I can't help but be charmed. The 5 stars are probably a dead giveaway of my veritable moony-eyedness.
Belying expectations the footnotes did not annoy. The infinite digressions merely served to intensify my fascination with the way DFW's mind worked.
But can it be said that DFW left behind a body of work which can be given the label of 'proper literature'? The answer to the question depends on the way you choose to constrict your definition of 'proper literature' or whether you choose to constrict it at all.
The man was a genius and his suicide only translates into a profound loss for all the good which remains in the world of publishing. And I doff my hat in honor of the creative freedom he refused to sacrifice while writing.