On the dust jacket of David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion, printed under the title, is the word “stories”, which doesn’t seem to be quite the right word as it invokes a short tale with a beginning, middle, and end.These pieces are hardly that lucid. They are more like nightmarish vignettes that you try to remember and puzzle out in the car on the way to work.
Most of the eight “stories” are about middle-aged corporate employees. This would be dull if it weren’t for the menacing subtexts that Wallace tucks into the narrative, subtexts of creepy dreams, perversions, murderous secrets, and incestuous affairs. The author drops enticing details like breadcrumbs, leading readers from page to page, making us yearn for these subtexts to uncoil and expose themselves. But though you read on with bated breath, the story concludes, and you never find out exactly what happens.
These pieces will make you think, if for no other reason than that they don’t hand themselves to you on a platter. In this respect, modern literature can be a chore to read (there’s nothing like reading 78 pages and still being more or less unsure about what is actually happening). But Oblivion is entertaining and approachable thanks to Wallace’s ability as a writer. This man’s got quite the skill set -- he can make your skin crawl, your jaw drop, and elicit smiles of recognition. Even though intellectual fiction isn’t known for its suspense and excitement, you may find yourself devouring these stories like the pulpiest fiction out there, with the bathroom door locked, flipping pages frantically.
Wallace fans will see that his style has tightened up, and what used to be fun-and-games experimental fiction has become more serious. His style, as usual, is cerebral and razor-sharp, with an enormous vocabulary and details precise to exhaustion. The sentence structure can be so complex that you want to smack anyone who interrupts you midway through a series of parentheses with imbedded brackets enclosing a footnoted quote. Don’t even try it after a martini.
He has a genius for creating an inclusive universe inside each story. So much information is conveyed in so few pages that to even superficially explain what a story is about to a curious man in a coffee shop is impossible to do without taking an obnoxiously long time. In the end, I told him to read the book. The stories may be odd and disjointed, but they are fascinating and gripping pieces of work.