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.