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Oblivion: Stories by David Foster Wallace
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Oblivion: Stories (original 2004; edition 2005)

by David Foster Wallace

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1,572254,615 (3.86)39
Member:jSummer
Title:Oblivion: Stories
Authors:David Foster Wallace
Info:Back Bay Books (2005), Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
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Oblivion by David Foster Wallace (2004)

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» See also 39 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Perhaps it was a mistake to follow up minimalist master Amy Hempel's short story collection with Mr. Wallace's sprawlingly verbose collection of never-ending sentences. But I wanted to get a taste of his prose before tackling Infinite Jest. However, I now fear this is headed for the DNF pile, and Infinite Jest is destined to be put on indefinite hold. Thinking of digging into some Raymond Carver as an antidote... ( )
  S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
I don't particularly rate Wallace's first two short story collections, Girl With Curious Hair and Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. As the author himself commented on BIWHM: "There isn't really an agenda with this book, except for a certain amount of technical, formal stuff that I don’t know if I want to talk about and I don’t think people really want to hear about." That was always my problem with both aforementioned collections of short fiction: they were overtly technical exercises for Wallace to show off his skillset and remind everyone just how smart a writer he was. The problem was there was no payoff for the hardwork involved, something that Wallace knew was required and explains why his novels feature as many hilarious sections as they do intricate technical passages. The point being, Wallace's short fiction often doesn't have the space to be both technical and engaging.

Oblivion is certainly the best stab at this combination in the short form that Wallace made, with "The Suffering Channel" being exactly what I wish more of his short stories were like: readable, true to his style, but dealing with heavyweight themes in a manner that interested, rather than alienated the reader. Even better is "Good Old Neon", which is without doubt the best short he wrote (much better than "The Depressed Person" to which it is, understandably, frequently linked). It makes for grim reading in retrospect of Wallace's death, but even had I read it before that event it still would have registered as a brilliant piece of writing. Its insight and conveyance of a particular mind is almost unmatched. "Mister Squishy" is interesting in its portrayal of boring business matters in America, somehow remaining interesting in spite of tedious subject matter; a talent more fully developed in The Pale King.

The other stories in this collection whilst not such standout efforts certainly didn't bore me in the way that certain stories from both GWCH and BIWHM did. With a few exceptions Wallace does away with the footnotes and endnotes that characterised his earlier work and were in danger of becoming a cliche. Oblivion is definitely a more mature work than his other short story collections and the best of the bunch. Overall, it still doesn't scale the heights that Wallace's novels reached - given his maximalist style Wallace needed the breathing space that novels permit - but there are gems here that are an essential part of Wallace's output and not to be missed. ( )
  DRFP | Aug 26, 2013 |
Pervasive dread. Brilliantly written. It makes me miss him terribly. ( )
  MichelleMF | Apr 17, 2013 |
Sometimes I find David Foster Wallace a little hyper-intellectual and what I mean by that is he has many great ideas that get lost in his own hyperbolic self. Some of the appeal of the greatest writers of our time-take Hemingway or Kerouac for instance is that they were able to write novels that anyone with interest in literature could grasp and understand. Wallace is (was) a bit of an elitist in this respect. He writes novels for the highest literary echelon to try to fathom and after awhile it seems almost pointless..it's a sake of writing to impress and it's, quite bluntly, wankery. It's akin to hearing a 20 minute reeling guitar solo that signifies absolutely nothing besides how fast someone can use their fingers. I know Wallace can write a slew of big words, but can he make me feel something besides? That's where the bottom line comes in for me.

Of course, Oblivion is insufferable to the reader in many ways and Wallace was certainly oblivious for not seeing how over 60 pages of tiring descriptions of corporate product focus groups and marketing would inspire anyone to do anything besides take copious quantities of Ibuprofen. If you can get past this first story entitled "Mister Squishy", it does get better. The story about the insane substitute who starts writing KILL THEM all over the chalkboard during a Bill of Rights lesson for instance is quite interesting (The Soul is Not a Smithy). It's also not surprising that one of the student hostages taken (a protagonist) is a perpetual day dreamer. There's also the story (The Suffering Channel) of the very anal man who excretes literally works of art every time he uses the toilet and Style magazine has to decide whether or not to run an article about it. Of course, it's set about a month from 911 and the offices are high up in the World Trade Center so you have to figure all of the execs making the decisions will be passing away soon anyhow, making it seem like a rather futile story just like all of Wallace's stories inevitably do seem. Some of the complexity of a relationship crossed with paranoid delusions and possible hallucinations are explored well in "Oblivion" Probably the best story is "Good Old Neon" which is about a man who feels so fake and like a fraud he must kill himself.


Wallace has some excellent ideas and I'd really like to rate this collection higher but ultimately many of the emotion and the feeling of what he could bring out gets lots in pretension. That's not good writing in my opinion. It's frankly a waste of talent.


Give me Dostoevsky instead any day of the week. There's an intellectual that could write with the kind of feeling that helped the reader understand the deep nature of his darkness. ( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
Phew - what a collection.

I can see traces of DFW's later work in here - the first part of the beginning story reminds me of the tedium of jargon in The Pale King. He's still fumbling a bit, and some of these stories seem rambling and pretentious and just bad compared to the rest of his work (!), but his incredible talent with language is here, not a doubt.

As for my humble recommendations, Good Old Neon, The Soul is not a Smithy, and Incarnations of Burned Children were brilliant. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316010766, Paperback)

In the stories that make up Oblivion, David Foster Wallace joins the rawest, most naked humanity with the infinite involutions of self-consciousness--a combination that is dazzlingly, uniquely his. These are worlds undreamt-of by any other mind. Only David Foster Wallace could convey a father's desperate loneliness by way of his son's daydreaming through a teacher's homicidal breakdown ("The Soul Is Not a Smithy"). Or could explore the deepest and most hilarious aspects of creativity by delineating the office politics surrounding a magazine profile of an artist who produces miniature sculptures in an anatomically inconceivable way ("The Suffering Channel"). Or capture the ache of love's breakdown in the painfully polite apologies of a man who believes his wife is hallucinating the sound of his snoring ("Oblivion"). Each of these stories is a complete world, as fully imagined as most entire novels, at once preposterously surreal and painfully immediate.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:49 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In the stories that make up Oblivion, David Foster Wallace joins the rawest, most naked humanity with the infinite involutions of self-consciousness -- a combination that is dazzlingly, uniquely his. These are worlds undreamt of by any other mind. Only David Foster Wallace could convey a father's desperate loneliness by way of his son's daydreaming through a teacher's homicidal breakdown ("The Soul Is Not a Smithy"). Or explore the deepest and most hilarious aspects of creativity by delineating the office politics surrounding a magazine profile of an artist who produces miniature sculptures in an anatomically inconceivable way ("The Suffering Channel"). Or capture the ache of love's breakdown in the painfully polite apologies of a man who believes his wife is hallucinating the sound of his snoring ("Oblivion"). Each of these stories is a complete world, as fully imagined as most entire novels, at once preposterously surreal and disconcertingly immediate. Oblivion is an arresting and hilarious new creation from a writer "whose best work challenges and reinvents the art of fiction" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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