Monday, November 14, 2011


David Foster Wallace so loves the DSM that I decided I needed to break down and get a copy. Thanks to the wonders of Amazon’s used book sales, this is easily done. The DSM (in case you’re not a reference book fetishist) is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition). If you are going to be diagnosed with some form of mental or emotional malady in the Western world, it’s described herein. Because many of these terms and diagnoses are tossed around willy-nilly in the modern post-therapy world, we’re quite familiar as a culture with depression, PTSD, bipolarity, and various forms of addiction and dependence. For these well known disorders, its fascinating to read clinical descriptions of what the terms really mean. (Turns out we use them pretty haphazardly in everyday life.) And then there are all of the other more arcane disorders, from Pica (eating dirt and other inappropriate things) to paraphilia (sexual compulsions associated with some atypical objects.)

I’ll admit that I’ve not finished reading the entire book. It’s about a thousand pages of reference, frequently cross-referenced against diagnostic code lists, and other similar disorders. But for all that, it is a surprisingly readable reference work. Those who would never consider sitting down and reading the OED might be surprised to find that the DSM presents mental and emotional disorders in readable, interesting, bite-sized chunks. It’s the perfect gift for the budding novelist, psychology grad student, or hypochondriac bookworm in your life. Which gives me an idea…
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

I’d started a writing project this summer in which I wanted to tell a collection of tales of short relationships between a man and a number of different women. Maybe this was a way of capturing the fantasy of various girls I wish I’d gotten to know better earlier in life. Or maybe it’s just a subject that is interesting. But because I wanted a fantasy or supernatural angle, I wanted to make at least one of them a witch, maybe more. Not a mysoginist “all women are evil” witches, but instead a way of sort of celebrating the mysterious and magical diversity of various feminine personalities. (Though I did want to include at least one bit of serious darkness – if you’ve ever done much dating, you’ve got a story or two to be sure – and not all witches are about love spells and pet kittens.) Carried away with my own cleverness, I decided to title the collection Brief Interviews with Supposedly Fun Witches I’ll Never Do Again in a sort of homage to one of our postmodern masters.

This little project led me to reopen David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, a collection of spliced together short fiction relayed as interviews with people who are, as the title suggests, generally not very nice in one way or another. I was reminded of how enchanting DFW’s linguistic hi-jinx and chicanery can be to word worms like me, and in short, what a dazzling writer he could be at times.

Since the men here are not named, but instead identified only by subject or case ID information and a location, and since the stories are arrayed in an order designed to slowly ratchet up the hideous, rather than grouped by subject, part of the puzzle is figuring out who is who here.

Even after more than a decade and a helluva lot of zeitgeist, Brief Interviews holds up quite well. DFW was a master of the craft, albeit it not for everyone. His self indulgence and focus on relationships and the nuances of self-absorption read like paeans from a pre 9/11 world. He regularly loses sight of the forest of the narrative, and can be found climbing the tree of some particular metafictional angle or footnote. But none of this obscures the obvious (and now somewhat over-celebrated) brilliance, of a man who loves language, has terrific gifts with construction, and sees many things clearly.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Proofing process finished for Social Game Design -- now it's off to the printers, and will be availible on Amazon and store shelves by the end of the year!