Friday, June 18, 2010

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace (unabridged audio book read by the author and others)

This audiobook is read by Bobby Cannavale, Michael Cerveris, Josh Charles, Will Forte, Malcolm Goodwin, John Krasinski, Christopher Meloni, Chris Messina, Max Minghella, Dennis O'Hare, Lou Taylor Pucci, Ben Shenkman, Joey Slotnick, Corey Stoll, and David Foster Wallace.

The first story on the audiobook of author David Foster Wallace's short-story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, "Death Is Not the End," seems to have been designed as a test to see if the listener is truly prepared for Wallace's fiction. The late author reads, but his narrative is so robotic as to be obnoxious. This is only intensified by the story's merely being a series of digressions (including the author's signature footnotes) with no real destination.

"Forever Overhead" is more successful, primarily because it covers a longer period of time: a 13-year-old's birthday spent at a public pool with his family. Wallace's incisive observations are keen, but his reading once again detracts from the piece -- or maybe it was because a glitch on my copy has caused most of track 5 on disc 1 to be a duplication of a later part of the story that shouldn't have played yet and that I therefore had to listen to twice.

Then there are the titular "Brief Interviews," in which we hear only the answers to a series of unheard questions. (These would be great for audition monologues.) There's the guy who shouts, "Victory to the forces of democratic freedom" upon orgasm; the guy whose "proclivities" originate from his father's need to be restrained from his own violence; a very personal interview with the questioner's boyfriend, who is tired of the questioner's insecurities....

Wallace's talent lies in showing everything, leaving nothing to the imagination, and punctuating it with wry humor and intensifying surprises. (Except in one special case where the final surprise is left up to the listener to figure out.)

...the pot grower who professes to know the difference between a great lover and a great lover; the guy who calls his shriveled arm "the asset"; the son of a washroom attendant; the fellow who argues that rape broadens the mind; the military brat whose supernatural masturbatory fantasies originate from a childhood fascination with Bewitched....

Wallace's fiction oozes pretensions, though Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is never unlistenable. Sometimes it's overlong and feels too much like hard work, but it's entertaining. And every so often there's a true gem, a piece so complete that it's like being rewarded for the effort of the rest. Even the title of "Suicide as a Sort of Present" adds to instead of just summarizing the experience.

...the man who loves everything about women; the duo arguing over how difficult it is to deduce what women want, given what you're working with; the guy who finds a "flake" more fascinating when he hears her rape story. The mere breadth of hideousness contained here is remarkable.

This new, unabridged edition of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men — the portions read by Wallace are taken from a previous, abridged recording — has evidently been produced to tie in with the recent film version adapted and directed by John Krasinski (best known as Jim Halpert from The Office). It includes several cast members performing their roles from the film.

1 comment:

Paul D. Brazill said...

I read the book a couple of years ago and enjoyed it, mostly. I think he got away with it.

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