Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

“What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.”

This is one of the most perplexing books I’ve read in a long time. I should have expected that from Wallace, whose Infinite Jest sent my mind reeling in eight different directions (although I still loved it), but the mixture of lucidity and surrealism here cast a strange tone over the whole narrative.

A collection of short stories, the highlights for me here were Good Old Neon (which I’d read before) and Another Pioneer. The former is a powerful portrayal of suicide, bleak but with one of the most electrifying and beautiful endings I’ve ever read. The latter is the retelling of a retelling of a retelling of something that was overheard on a plane, the tale of a savant living in a tribal culture which examines tradition and the human aversion to change.

Some of the other stories, however, dragged. The Soul is Not a Smithy had some fantastic descriptions of daydreaming, but the rest never amounted to much. The Suffering Channel could have been cut by a third and not lost much, in my opinion. Oblivion, the title story, felt like it was going nowhere but then saved itself with a really simple (almost cliche) but somehow incredibly unexpected ending.

Not my favourite DFW so far, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to someone who hadn’t read him before, but Oblivion was still extremely ambitious and at times brilliant.

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