David Foster Wallace — writer, thinker, professor, reluctant legend — is coming in fictional form to a screen near you tomorrow, reincarnated as a bandanna’d Jason Segel in The End of the Tour.
Wallace is most famous for his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, a doorstoppingly long 577,608-word tome that you don’t have time to read before the movie comes out, or, let’s be real, before you die. For a perspective on that word count, recall that A Tale of Two Cities is 135,420 words, Crime and Punishment is 211,591 words, and the longest Harry Potter book wraps in 257,154 words. Infinite Jest could eat them all between meals.
So if you want to prepare for the movie, but you don’t have enough time to read all that, we present you with a miniature book club featuring three of his shorter works.
“Incarnations of Burned Children”
This short, devastating story is a total of maybe five sentences long. You can read it here. Book club time:
whatever was lost never thenceforth mattered, and the child’s body expanded and walked about and drew pay and lived its life untenanted, a thing among things, its self’s soul so much vapor aloft, falling as rain and then rising, the sun up and down like a yoyo.
Is the child dead? Or is Wallace simply talking about it losing its innocence? (Somewhere a workshop full of people with new Moleskine notebooks is debating that as we speak). You don’t need a thousand-plus pages for a book club discussion — with Wallace, you can linger on one sentence.
“Brief Interviews With Hideous Men”
Disturbing, funny, and punchy, you can read it here. Booking, clubbing:
I’d fallen in love with her. I believed she could save me. I know how this sounds, trust me. I know your type and I know what you’re bound to ask. Ask it now. I felt she could save me I said. Ask me now. Say it. I stand here naked before you. Judge me, you chilly cunt. You dyke, you bitch, cooze, slut, gash, cunt. Happy now? All judgments confirmed? Be happy. I do not care. I knew she could. I knew I loved her. End of story.
Hideous? Absolutely. Provocative, interesting? Read it and decide.
“9/11: The View From The Midwest”
This is an essay, not a short story, but it’s the best 9/11 reaction piece out there. Read it here. Book, clubbed:
Duane Bracero’s main contribution is to keep iterating how much like a movie it is. Duane, who’s at least 25 but still lives at home while supposedly studying to be an arc welder, is one of these people who always wear camouflage T-shirts and paratrooper boots but would never dream of actually enlisting (as, to be fair, neither would I). He has also kept his hat on in Mrs. Thompson’s house. It always seems to be important to have at least one person to hate.
Wallace is discussing watching the 9/11 news coverage with a gathering of neighbors, and this illustrates his penchant for elevating the mundane human aspects of a situation or setting until they build a real-life hyper-realism.
For more from the man himself, read this interview or listen to his famous 2005 Kenyon commencement speech: