Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

Valerie’s review


Thought this book was supposed to be funny. Everything reviewers wrote about it led me to believe I would be laughing. If I am laughing it is at the reviewers because this book is sad as hell, verging on horror.

The haunting images fixated in his brain that probably led him to suicide and which should perhaps remain unspeakable come out in these terrifying vignettes.

Bizarre attack on an ad agency. One of the most depressing indictments of humanity I’ve ever read. His deep knowledge of arcane rituals of the communications industry (focus groups, ad buying, media conglomerates) serves to illustrate the unimportance and irrelevance of our busy busy busy work.

ADD child’s substitute teacher goes cracked and takes the students hostage (loved the story in a story in a news story organization of “A Soul is not a Smithy”). The kid telling himself a fantasy—replete with gross, unbearable violence—in the comicbook-panel windows of his school room reminds me of the daydreaming I’d do in church as a kid, making up stories about the stained glass pictures….

A baby gets burned with hot water in excruciating detail.

An idiotic sociopath protects his whack-facelifted mother with a briefcase of poisonous spiders…

Child prophet turned outcast in a remote village—

Suicide note of a yuppie—

Waking dream of a pedophile (use of single quotes in this ‘story’ was almost unbearable)—

Soulless reality TV channel dedicated to human agony.

I went into this book expecting another Girl with Curious Hair, but clearly DFW was further down the spiral when he wrote these fuck-yous.

I mean, the stories aggressively topple every tower of what we want to believe about human goodness, decency, and our society at large.

His use of brand names in the last story reminded me of American Psycho, and now I hear echoes of Bret Easton Ellis in his words, also the tone. Vocabulary is so Nabokov in that he is showing off in an excessive fashion, which pairs with his conscious effort to shove back at the structured world in his themes that ping the darkest recesses of the medulla, where base instincts of man are stored. He hits the pain points like a teenager playing the strong-man game at the fair, where you hit the target with a mallet and try to make the bell ding to show you’re tough. Only DFW, like, breaks the game, and bloodies his hands while doing it, but he doesn’t even feel it. He is the one laughing.

The reviewers thought they were in on his joke but his joke was about/on them, us. Kind of a painful burn into my mind, like those little incisions on her inner-upper arm, which his executive intern filled with reconstituted lemon juice.

DFW: “If you’ve never wept and want to, have a child.”

Mike’s review

“The Soul Is Not A Smithy”–heartbreaking annihilative fury of abused dog then man losing hand/forearm in snowblower that makes me feel terrible, but I want more. Please flagellate me DFW. It’s 7:15 am. I have to walk the dog then go to work, but I just want DFW to abuse me.

“for almost 30 years of 51 weeks a year my father sat all day at a metal desk in a silent, fluorescent lit room, reading forms and making calculations and filling out further forms on the results of those calculations, breaking only occasionally to answer his telephone or meet with other actuaries in bright, quiet rooms.” My back and knees are killing me, but god, I love my job, comparatively.


“Good Old Neon” may be the best “short” story I’ve ever read.

“You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know.”


Definite one-way-mirror theme throughout, which is appropriately self-observational blocking for DFW.


Everything is about to tumble in “The Suffering Channel”—9/11, magazines, Blockbuster, journalism. Not sure how much had actually toppled already in 2004.

Even after reading it, I don’t know what to think about a DFW story about shit sculptures and agony and contextualization in the face of 9/11. But it is one of the more enjoyable pieces and though twice as long as anything else (seemed, but time is fake) to take me half the time.


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