I’m not going to lie to you, I’m meant to be reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace right now. That was the plan. Then I picked it up, put it back down, picked up Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace, and proceeded to ignore my carefully thought out plans. I’ve no doubt I’ll get to Infinite Jest in time, for now Brief Interviews with Hideous Men seemed to give me the full scope of David Foster Wallace’s fiction writing abilities. The good, the disturbing, the sad, the footnotes, and the confusing.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a collection of short stories and interspersed among them are interviews with men about their relationship (or lack there of) with women. The interviews were interesting. I felt pretty disgusted by those being interviewed most of the time but it was interesting to read how the various “hideous men” justified their views and actions. Some of the men that were the most sexist became defensive of their views before they even finished the sentence in which their sexism became clear. Do they not actually believe what they’re saying? Or have they had so many arguments with people about it that they have their side of it memorized? Regardless, the interviews all had a sleazy quality about them that bothered me a lot during reading. I realized after the fact that it was so because these interviews didn’t actually happen, but men like this exist. Men that calmly talk about rape building character in the victim. It was so wildly unbelievable that it was funny while reading, but when I set the book down and thought about it for a bit I realize that it’s only funny if you know it’s ludicrous. Not all of the interviews were as unsettling as that one, but they all certainly gave me insight into the mind of sleazy, hideous men.
The interviews were occasionally a welcome relief from Wallace’s other short stories. There were a few that seemed to drag on, which is never what you want when you’re reading a short story. He always had an interesting subject, usually one that explored the dregs of human nature, but after he hammered the point in he kept hammering and smashed straight through the wall. I noticed this particularly in The Depressed Person. I actually enjoyed this one. It’s about a woman that suffers from depression and is self involved enough to think that her friend’s cancer is a positive thing because the friend will have more time to dedicate to listening to the depressed person’s inner fears and struggles. It’s the epitome of self involved and it was fascinating. After a couple of pages I was checking when it would be over. I felt like I was one of her friends she talks about that she suspects wants to hang up on her. I did want to hang up on her but that’s not really how books work.
It was interesting reading this book because for the most part it’s kind of dark. There is not always a light at the end of the tunnel and the bad people didn’t always change their ways at the end. It was more truthful than that. Sometimes reading stories about people being horrible to other people gets me in kind of dark place but this felt different. Wallace puts just enough humor and wit into his writing that instead of feeling like downers his stories come across as insight into human nature. We’re not all good and we’re not all bad. It’s the hardest thing in the world to admit that a complete jackass is more than just a complete jackass. We live in the gray and Wallace explores that. In reading people’s deepest, darkest thoughts it’s easy to become judgmental, but I couldn’t help but wonder what people would think of me if they were reading mine. I can’t imagine I’d come across very well, so for now that’ll be territory I explore privately.