Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace, king of the hipsters and literary fans the world over. Bearing that in mind, from now on he shall be known as DFW, partially because that’s what all the ‘cool kids’ do in their blogs, but mostly because I can’t be bothered writing his name multiple times.
Brief Interviews is a collection of stories, often titled Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, about people who are essentially…well, not great. Sometimes they are in first person perspective, occasionally they are third, and with the Brief Interviews themselves, they are a series of interviews where the question has been reduced to a simple Q, and the reader has to determine what they asked based off of the interviewee’s answers.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men wasn’t a particularly easy read, but I can understand why people are in love with DFW’s writing. If the name David Foster Wallace sounds familiar to you, it’s because he is the author who wrote Infinite Jest – the holy grail of books if you are either an intellectual or a hipster. (Side note: Are hipsters a thing overseas? They’re huge in Melbourne and every second man in the inner suburbs has either a sleeve of tattoos or a bushy beard. Is that common overseas too, or am I just banging on about hipsters and you guys have no idea what I’m on about? Best to let me know.) And while I would love to tick off Infinite Jest on my ‘to read’ list, it’s about 1000 pages long…and DFW isn’t a big fan of page breaks.
I decided to read Brief Interviews for two reasons: the first is that a friend lent it to me and well, free book, and secondly, because I wanted to taste DFW’s writing before I attempted the beast that is Infinite Jest. The conclusion? While I enjoyed his writing, I don’t think I could read a 1000 pages of DWF all at once.
DWF’s writing seems particularly tricky because he does away with the conventional norms that most of us associate with fiction. Frequently, his short stories don’t have a particularly strong narrative, so it’s easy to get lost in the ‘point’ of the story. His characters, at least in these short stories, were mostly abhorrent and when I spent too much time ‘in their head’ so to speak, I felt distinctly icky. He frequently has incredibly long sentences that are grammatically correct, and surprisingly not too hard to read, but it does mean that entire pages go by before a new paragraph or a chance to have a break from the words. Lastly, he is a fan of footnotes, which is usually fine, but at times the footnotes were longer than the actual story. Eek!
However, for anyone who is a fan of literature that breaks the norms of what is expected, and tests the English language in different ways (that still makes sense), then I would recommend Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. In a way, DFW reminds me of a harder version of Dave Eggers – same style of ‘doing something different’, but slightly less reward at the end of it.
Have you read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men? Have you read Infinite Jest or heard of David Foster Wallace? What do you think of his books and his reputation? Let me know!