What I’ve Been Reading – 5/4/16

Happy Hump Day! Negativity’s got me kind of down. God knows I’ve been participating in plenty of it. With a certain orange-hued demon grabbing the GOP nomination for president, and the Rabid Puppies pooping all over the Hugo Awards floor, it’s hard not want to lash out.

So instead of that, I figured I’d highlight some of the great books I’ve read recently!

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Ken Liu’s debut novel took the fantasy world by storm. It’s up for Best Novel in this year’s Nebula Awards and it’s got a boatload of critical praise to boot. Because of the language several reviewers used in regards to the book, I expected something paradigm-shattering. In that sense, Liu’s novel starts slowly. There’s an emperor, there’s a smattering of conflicting nations (though the world is Asian-inspired as opposed to European), there’s a roguish hero. I almost put it down a couple of times, actually, as the first quarter or so felt too bog-standard for me to enjoy.
I’m so glad I stuck with it! Once the book found its feet, I discovered a novel focused not on a single character arc, but a series of vignettes exploring several viewpoints in a continental war. Contrasted with something like Game of Thrones, these points of view are more limited in scope, but I didn’t mind that at all. Nearly all of them brought something interesting to the table, and whenever I found myself growing a bit weary of the central plot, Liu snuck in a new, exciting character or setting to perk me up.
Now, I have some mild criticisms. The novel felt very “male” to me–likely by design, as the primary conflict between the two main characters is arguably a conflict over the definition of masculinity. But even the female characters who were present felt flat. A princess who discovers her sexuality is a source of power! A wife who … is a wife! In the last quarter of the book, we’re introduced to a woman general, but even so I felt a little disappointed on the gender equality front. Still, not everyone will have issues with this.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Charlie Jane Anders, the founder and former editor-in-chief of io9, just left the site to pursue noveling full-time. And while I’m morose as hell about her departure–she was absolutely the soul of that site–I can’t say it was a bad decision. If her debut is any indication, she’s got a long career ahead of her.
Birds is a wildly different fantasy novel than Grace of Kings. While the former is sprawling and epic, Birds is focused, insular and, dare I say, positively literary. Her prose shines, as do her characters who we see grow from confused, struggling adolescents looking for their place in the world, to confused, struggling adults looking for their place in the world (I joke because life doesn’t get particularly easier for the two of them, but there is character development, I promise). The novel hinges on the tension between magic and science, which feels like a particularly apt theme for a former io9 editor, as Science Fiction vs. Fantasy is an evergreen discussion topic around those parts.
The book won’t necessarily be for everyone. I wasn’t lying when I called it literary, so if you’re looking for something faster, bloodier and littered with twists and turns, this probably isn’t your cup of tea. And there’s a fair amount of absurdism–which is absolutely not a criticism, but it’s not quite my favorite style, and I could imagine others being turned off even more by it.

STAR WARS!!

Hey! It’s May the Fourth, Star Wars Day, and I’d have to shut down my blog if I didn’t talk about some Star Wars books. First, one I’ve read: Battlefront: Twilight Company, by Alexander Freed, a loose, loose (I can’t overstate how loose) tie-in to the video game of the same name. This one starts out super slow, especially for fans of military sci-fi. I’d say the book doesn’t even get interesting until the halfway point (the choice to include a Stormtrooper POV and a series of main character flashbacks that never amount to anything pad the book’s length, but not its depth), so it’s hard for me to give an unqualified recommendation. 
However, those who stick with it will find some fascinating character development after the midpoint, especially in the character of Challis, an imperial defector who nevertheless isn’t really on board with the rebel cause. The existence of Twilight Company, a group of rebels with far more allegiance to their platoon then the Alliance, is similarly engaging. It’s readable for Star Wars fans, and likely enjoyable for Star Wars military sci-fi fans, but I wouldn’t hold it up as a master of the form.
Also new this week is Bloodline: New Republic by Claudia Grey, the author of Lost Stars, which is considered by many people, myself included, to be the best novel of the new Star Wars canon. I haven’t yet had time to start in on it, but a novel about Princess Leia? That ties in directly to The Force Awakens? That has her politicking and fighting the powers-that-be? Uh, yes please. I will have one of those, please.

Paladins of the Storm Lord by Barbara Wright

Friend of the blog Barbara Wright has a new book out this week: Paladins of the Storm Lord. This faraway science fiction tale is bit of a departure from her previous fantasy/romance novels such as The Pyramid Waltz and Thrall, but is certainly no less engaging. In fact, I think it’s her best work to date! It’s got spaceships, magic powers, mouthy military captains, arrogant gods and plenty of crazy critters as well. It’s also got lots of people trying to get in each others’ pants–and hearts! What more could you ask for?
I devoured this one as a beta reader, and while I haven’t yet read through the published version (it just arrived on my door this morning!), I’m looking forward to experiencing the story again.
And, uh, rumor has it that a sequel might be in the works 🙂
That’s it! I’m currently reading N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, but it’s still too early to give an impressions there. Any of you reading anything good lately? Any different opinions on the books above? Feel free to let me know!

Go Set a Watchman – Climbing That Ethical Ladder

Who Sets the Watchmen?

To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite novel. After reading its controversial sequel, Go Set a Watchman, I’m wondering if it should be.

Which is not to say that Watchman is a bad novel. Nor is it to say that it tarnishes the legacy of its beloved predecessor. It does complicate that legacy. Go Set a Watchman is an intensely uncomfortable experience. In my opinion, it is designed as such.

DOWN HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. While this isn’t really a novel that suffers when ‘spoiled,’ it’s worth warning anyway. If you want my one-paragraph recommendation, jump to the end!


The hows of Watchman’s drastic reversal of characterization should be plenty familiar by now: Atticus is not the hero we thought he was. Atticus is a bigot.

The easiest theme to identify here is disillusionment. Atticus Finch reveals himself to be a racist, and in so doing destroys the pedestal that Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird, has placed him on.

While that development is interesting enough, the far more compelling conflict is the one that Harper Lee brings up in her reader. There is, of course, the controversy over the publishing of the novel. There’s not a whole lot I can add to that — plenty has been written about some of the creepy stuff coming from Lee’s lawyer and publishers — and I was absolutely cognizant of that while reading. Discomfort all around.

But there’s a deeper layer of connection with her readers, which plays directly on Lee’s characterization of Atticus. In breaking him before our eyes, Lee is telling us directly that we need to grow our sense of morality beyond a small town lawyer showing the most basic amount of humanity to a black man.

The official story, of course, is that Go Set a Watchman was written first and included several flashbacks to Scout’s childhood. When Watchman was rejected, a publisher suggested she turn those flashbacks into a standalone novel, which became Mockingbird. I don’t doubt the truth of that, but the implication has always been that this version of Watchman is essentially the original one Lee wrote, with the bits that went into Mockingbird excised.

That is the part I tend to doubt.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever know for certain, but Watchman certainly feels aware of its own place in history. While Scout’s disappointment in Atticus fuels her growth as a character, it’s hard not to read between the lines and see Lee trying to grow her readers in the same way.

This is all dependent, of course, in how much of Watchman you believe was written or modified after the publication of Mockingbird. My guess: a nontrivial portion of it. But your interpretation may differ. One thing is inarguable, however. Even if Harper Lee didn’t mean to challenge our understanding of Mockingbird, she absolutely means to challenge our understanding of morality.

The Ziggurat of Morality

The crux of Watchman, as I see it, is that while believing the right thing for the wrong reasons may be better than doing the wrong thing, it can still lead to disastrous consequences in the long run. After finishing the novel, I thought of nothing so much as psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.

At the end of Watchman, Jean Louise learns her father is actually proud that she disagrees with his bigotry. Which doesn’t mean he’s going to consider being less bigoted, of course — only that he seems to recognize that he’s on the wrong side of the ethical line, but is going to stick to his guns anyway.

How does this relate to Kohlberg? Quoting Harvard’s phrasing of the first moral stage:

Stage 1: Egocentric deference to superior power or prestige

This is essentially Scout’s status at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird. She worships Atticus. His actions in defending Tom Robinson are seen as moral and heroic, but mostly because he says they are. The novel draws significant attention to Atticus shaping young Scout’s morality, but it should be noted that, according to Kohlberg, this is the lowest level of morality. It is based on a logical fallacy, and can be exceedingly dangerous if the ‘superior power’ is himself an immoral person (or an immoral text, *cough cough*). It should also be noted that Jean Louise’s friend Henry seems permanently stuck in this phase. He’s mostly not a bad guy, but that’s because he’s modeled himself after Atticus. Everything he does is to fit in, and at the end of the book, we can see that he worships the man even more than his daughter did.

But where do Atticus’s morals come from? It’s easy to see in the subtext of To Kill a Mockingbird (this article has some good sources for this), but Watchman makes it explicit: Atticus’s morality comes from the law. Which is not a horrible place to derive morality. Heck, it’s number 5 on Kohlberg’s list:

Stage 5: Contractual/legalistic orientation

  • Norms of right and wrong are defined in terms of laws or institutionalized rules which seem to have a rational basis.
  • When conflict arises between individual needs and law or contract, though sympathetic to the former, the individual believes the latter must prevail because of its greater functional rationality for society, the majority will and welfare.

This is Atticus to a T. He is a hyper-rational, stoic defender of the law. While this is laudable in a sense — especially when contrasted with people who let their biases outweigh what’s legal — it’s easy to see how this can go wrong. Atticus, when employing this way of thinking, lacks any sense of empathy. He is Antonin Scalia. While he’ll certainly defend a black man accused of rape, because the law says that every man deserves a defense, he has no problem supporting Jim Crow laws or the Ku Klux Klan. Laws, by definition, can’t be unjust. Because they are the law.

While this is a higher state of reasoning than Stage 1, it’s still not the top of Kohlberg’s pyramid. The top stage is “individual principles of conscience.” If that doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps you haven’t read the quote on the back of the book beating the theme of the story into your head:

This comes from Scout’s Uncle Jack, in reference to Scout’s rejection of her father’s philosophy. It doesn’t get much clearer of that. Atticus has been superseded in Jean Louise’s mind by her own watchman, her own conscience.

It may be time for the rest of us to follow her lead.

Controversy aside, how is the rest of it?

Well … it’s not terrible. I realize that may be a presumptuous thing to say about Harper Lee, one of my favorite authors (though given the story’s warning against hero worship, perhaps she’d be proud of me). But considered as a standalone story, divorced from the context of its author and her previous work, it feels … sort of flat.

Lee devotes much of the book to describing Maycomb, Alabama and the South in general, but as a transplanted Southerner with a not-so-cheery view of the states below the Mason-Dixon line, it was hard for me, personally, to be all that engaged by the rosy hue Lee uses to paint setting. Or by Scout’s presumed decision at the end of the novel to stay and make Maycomb the place she imagined it was — it’s a decision I can respect, but I still feel like it portrays the region’s bitter hatred in far too much of an ‘aw shucks!’ way.

And until the last quarter of the book, when Scout’s conflict with her father presents itself, there’s nothing driving the plot. Sure, she’s a little bit nostalgic for her home, and there’s a hint of strife between Scout and her suitor, Henry. But it’s clear from early on that she’s never going to marry the guy, and most of her hemming and hawing is simply trying to identify why she feels that way.

Henry’s story connects nicely with Atticus’s, and is ultimately satisfying. But it doesn’t make his pleading and pestering for Scout’s hand any less of a slog.

But is it worth reading? Well, yes. It’s an enjoyable enough read, it adds unneeded but not unwelcome context to Mockingbird, and it does play with some interesting themes. If you’re okay with the Atticus twist, you should pick it up! If you’re not … well, you should definitely pick it up. If you’re one of those people who based their morals on Atticus Finch, who became a lawyer because of a fictional character and whose foundations would be shaken upon seeing him in a new light, you’re the exact person this novel is speaking to.

(Classic) Review: “Herland,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“Life is a stuggle, has to be,” he insisted. “If there is no struggle, there is no life–that’s all.”


Utopian fiction is a tricky business. It’s generally a misnomer at best. Utopian fiction often falls into one of three categories: Utopia that turns out to be the utter opposite of paradise for some, if not all, of the inhabitants (dystopia); Utopia that turns out to be flawed in one way or another; or, a utopia that actually is heaven on Earth. The first two types of stories are generally more interesting. The third, unfortunately, is where Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland falls.

That’s not to say there’s not some very interesting ideas here. Herland was written near the beginning of the 20th Century, and many of Gilman’s thoughts are ahead of her time. The main problem, however, lies in Gilman’s choice of outlet. What may have been better suited for an essay is instead formulated as a sort of adventure novel that never quite gives us an adventure.

Herland revolves around a simple premise. Somewhere in the unexplored jungle lies a pristine, modern paradise populated solely by women. A group of intrepid (not really) explorers stumble upon what they call Herland, and the inhabitants teach them their history, their culture and their way of life. That’s it. There are relatively few twists (the men try to escape at one point, fail, and are brought back). The ending isn’t too unexpected. It’s really more of a what-if essay than a fleshed out story.

In a somewhat interesting choice for feminist literature, Gilman uses male protagonists to filter the reader’s view of the issues at hand. Our viewpoint character is Van Jennings, a sort of middle-of-the-road kind of guy who can see both sides of any argument. This makes for a kind of boring and timid “hero” (if you can call him that, which, now that I think about it, no, no you can’t), but I can see why Gilman chose him. The reader is not really asked to follow along for any sweeping judgments. Instead, we identify with Van as he observes the other two male characters: Terry Nicholson and Jeff Margrave.

Terry is, to put it bluntly, an ass. He holds the traditional turn-of-the-century views of women, but escalated to sometimes comical levels. To Terry, women are silly little things with no real intelligence or capability, obviously the inferior sex, and only really necessary as a motivation for men. One of the best examples of his character: to him, the existence of Herland is less of a scientific impossibility than a social one. He argues against the concept of female-only reproduction (which, in one of the most speculative aspects of the story, is identified as parthenogenesis). But to him, the craziest part of this country is the idea of women living amongst themselves with no men to run the town, grow the crops, maintain and invent the technology and stop all that silly female bickering.

If Terry is the resident misogynist, Jeff resides squarely in the opposite side of crazy. He represents the pro-feminist camp, which is generally cool, but sometimes creepily approaches putting women on a pedastal (something, it should be mentioned, Terry does as well, but in more of a “women are so frail, they shouldn’t do work” kind of way). I’m not sure if this is intentional on Gilman’s part, or if Jeff is supposed to be a positive character and our modern ideas of feminism have just changed in the past 100 years. However, given the fact that Jeff is not our central character, I’d like to believe the former.

Jeff and Terry frequently spar over the roles of women in society, while Van watches on, giving us the novel’s only real conflict. Unfortunately, this conflict becomes repetitive almost immediately. The woman claim they have accomplished some spectacular achievement, Terry says no, that’s impossible because woman are stupid and silly, Jeff says nuh-uh cause women are awesome! All while Van nods his head and jots it all down in his mental notebook.

My other criticism, beyond the lack of a real plot, is that Gilman’s female characters all sort of run together. A strange thought, isn’t it? In a book about the exceptionalism of women, the women become exceptionally stale and boring. There’s really no difference in any of them. They’re all incredibly smart, capable, confident in themselves and their culture. The three women who end up getting paired off with the males (Ellador, Celis and Alima) seem different in temperament, but that’s only because they are given different situations to react to  (Alima, who gets to deal with Terry, is obviously going to behave differently than Celis, who gets Jeff).

So what’s to like about Herland? Gilman’s subtle references to feminist thinking of the time. In one of my favorite passages of the book, one of the women brings up the concept of being trapped in one’s own home and life:

“It’s not the same thing at all,” [Terry] insisted. “A man wants a home of his own, with his wife and family in it.”

“Staying in it? All the time?” asked Ellador. “Not imprisoned, surely!”

“Of course not! Living there–nautrally,” he answered.

The point being how silly it is to consider a woman’s confinement in her home “natural.” This is very likely a reference to Gilman’s own The Yellow Wallpaper (a speculative-ish feminist story surrounding a woman’s depression and confinement. It’s absolutely fantastic). It is also oddly similar to Virginia Woolf’s then-unwritten A Room of One’s Own, though exploring the idea of living quarters in opposite directions.

It is moments like these that made me sit up and evaluate Gilman’s work in the greater pantheon of feminist literature. To my disappointment, there were exceedingly few moments that made me sit up and consider her work in the realm of adventure or speculative fiction. Maybe this isn’t so bad. I’m sure Gilman was more concerned about her feminist themes than whether or not her work could be adapted into a Syfy Original Movie. But if one were to read, say, a feminist western, one would hope that the work had something to add to both of those genres.

The most relevant passage in the book seems to be the one I quoted at the beginning of this post. Terry asserts that life must be filled with struggles to be worthwhile, and the women inform him that, no, living in a perfect world is perfectly satisfactory. In my interpretation, Gilman is speaking directly to the reader at this point. It seems evident that she knew that her story was more about the themes and ideas than any sort of character development. And she seems okay with that. I guess, in the end, that’s all we can hope from an author — that everything they do is done with full knowledge and purpose.

For fans of feminist literature, Herland is sort of a must-read. In fact, I’d assume most fans of feminist literature have already read it. That’s like saying “If you’re a fan of fantasy, you simply must read this Tolkien fellow!” But, as it is a very early example of utopian/futurist fiction, it may be of interest to specfic fans. And if that’s your sole interest, you may want to skip Herland. It doesn’t go much further than its synopsis. Instead, for feminist science fiction, go for any of Margaret Atwood’s books (ignore her unfortunate views on science fiction), or the aforementioned work, Gilman’s seminal The Yellow Wallpaper.


Herland can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.

Review: Get Down, by Asali Solomon

Get Down: Stories is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Award-winning compilation from little-known author Asali Solomon. In Get Down, Solomon gives her readers fleshed out, unique characters set in the not-as-near-as-it-once-was past of the 1980s. As a book with an African-American author, whose characters all happen to be black, it would be easy to categorize this book as the cliche “exploration of what it means to be black in America.” And there is some of that, to be sure. But Solomon achieves something much greater. Her characters are not defined by their skin color or their culture, as seems to be the case in so many so-called “ethnic” novels. Instead, she creates her characters with specific quirks and goals, such that their blackness is just one part of their multifaceted identity.

The first story, Twelve Takes Thea, is probably the most focues on the “minority issues” in America. It features a twelve-year-old girl, the titular Thea, struggling with fitting in among her classmates, most of which are white. Her best friend is another young black girl, who happens to transfer to a different school soon after the story begins, and an Indian girl whom Thea cannot quite wrap her mind around. This story twists and turns toward an emotional ending, though Solomon uses a sort of strange flash-forward device that I feel is somewhat unnecessary. Twelve Takes Thea would be something I would highly recommend to younger (middle school) readers, both because of relevant reading level and subject matter (though, the rest of this book does not follow this trend at all).


That Golden Summer and Party on, Vorhees! are two of the book’s shortest stories, both checking in at around 10-15 pages. I’m lumping them together because they share a common theme and structure: an adolescent trying to embrace their approaching adulthood, and getting into a dangerous situation because of it. Both stories are somewhat lacking in plot — Vorhees in particular seems to just ramble on without any real goal — but they make up for it in character. While Golden Summer focuses mainly on the child, Vorhees has a group of children, as well as an older woman who recounts her days as a mischievous youth, hopping from party to party. Solomon is able to reveal a lot about her characters simply by the way this woman tells her story, the way the children react to it, and the way the main character, who has presumably heard it time and time again, recounts it to the audience.

William Is Telling A Story is quite a departure from the other pieces in the book. It features a young man named William who is apparently struggling with his sexuality — but not in a commonly seen way. He is comfortable relating to his friends that he had a sexual experience with a man named Kelly, and he still seems interested in chasing women. However, he can’t seem to get Kelly off of his mind. It’s an extremely complex tale — probably the best one in the book, though maybe not the most enjoyable — so I won’t try to do it justice here. Suffice it to say that Solomon takes a complicated and sensitive topic and draws it in a fresh, respectful light.

My favorite story has to be The Star of the Story. This story is unique among the others, in that it features the viewpoints of two character weaved in and out of each other. The mother, Akousa, is an older woman seeking to rekindle a flame she had in the past, while her son, Eduardo, is a large outgoing boy with an unhealthy obsession with his cousin. The story isn’t perfect — Solomon takes a risk putting the two largely unrelated narratives together, and I don’t think she treats the topic of child rape with the sensitivity it really deserves — but it’s engaging and thought-provoking.

I won’t talk about the other two stories, mostly because they are fairly simplistic, when compared to the other pieces. One is cute and enjoyable to read — the other, not so much.

Finally, I have to address the comment a woman in my reading group made. She said she thought the book was “crap,” not because of the writing, but because they weren’t “her type of stories.” I’m pretty sure I know what she means — she’s white, so she feels like she can’t connect with the characters and immediately turns herself off from the writing. That’s unfortunate. I’ll be blunt, and say that there are stories where a certain demographic is writing for that demographic, and they don’t expect or desire anyone outside of that to be a part of the readership; there are many examples of men-writing-for-men or women-writing-for-women where the opposite gender is not encouraged to participate. However, Get Down does not even approach that sort of genre. For all its flaws, Get Down shines brightly at its best moments, and its casual-yet-masterful style pulled me in and held me tight. Solomon does not put forth the idea that she prefers one type of reader to the other — if you have problems “relating” to her story, that is most certainly your problem.

Review: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, by David Foster Wallace


“The fuzzy Hensonian epiclette Ovid the Obtuse, syndicated chronicler of trans-human entertainment exchange in the low-cost organs across the land, mythologizes the origins of the ghostly double that always shadows human figures on UHF broadcast bands thus: …”

This is the opening line of one of the stories in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, written by the late David Foster Wallace. I wouldn’t say this line is at all representative of the work in and of itself, but it is a great example of what Wallace is* trying to do with this book. Regardless of what Wallace himself says in one of the stories, Interviews is experimental fiction, plain and simple. That’s not to say that there aren’t great themes or characters contained within — but I think one of Wallace’s main goals was to try some crazy shit and see what happened. When he opens his story with a overtly loquacious translation of “The muppet from the syndicated tv show was talking about shadows,” I’m not sure how he could argue with such a classification.

Just to let you know what I mean, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of some of devices used in Interviews: Second-person narration, super-detached narration, beginning a story in the middle of a sentence, large pieces of stories contained in 5+ page spanning footnotes, a story in the form of dictionary entries, stories in the form of question-and-answer sessions, stories in the form on word problems, meta-meta-second-person narration, etc. This is maybe half of the unexpected, unique risks that Wallace takes.

Of course, a risk wouldn’t be a risk if it guaranteed success. Some of these devices work better than others. The extreme detachment of the narration (referring to the main character as “the depressed person” throughout the longest story of the book, for instance) becomes grating as Wallace uses it in at least half of the stories. Writing a short story in a footnote is cute at first, but annoying when it pops up two or three times. The dictionary story is, at best, boring and, at worst, pretentious.

But when Wallace hits, he hits big. The quiz section, entitled Octet, which starts to plod on a little too long, became on of my favorite sections when I was finished. The final pop-quiz of the cycle is written in a meta-fiction style that I loved. This quiz is written in second person, starting with the line “You are, unfortunately, a fiction writer,” which I laughed at for far too long. This quiz describes “your” (Wallace’s) thought process in writing Octet and considerations on what should go into this final quiz (which is great, because it leads to mind-bending turns of phrase such as “I would leave this unsaid if I were you”). Meta-fiction is a tricky subject; straight meta-fiction (“I’m the author!”) is sort of cliché and uninteresting by now, and even meta-meta-fiction (“I’m the author and I know I’m writing meta-fiction!”) isn’t completely original. But Wallace’s choice to write the piece in second-person (“You’re the author, and you’re writing meta-fiction!”) is something I’ve never seen before, which made up for some of the less enjoyable quizzes in the cycle. Stories like this serve to remind us why we need authors who will push boundaries rather than just emulate the masters.

The bulk of the book is made up of titular Brief Interviews With Hideous Men sections, which are presented as question-and-answer sessions between and interviewer and a so-called hideous man. Sometimes these interviews are presented as neutral; other times, I got the feeling that the two people knew each other personally (even though the questions are never written out, simply represented with a ‘Q’). I absolutely loved this part of the book. I can’t get enough of creepy, transgressional characters. Possibly realizing that a bunch of similar interviews with different characters could still get repetitive, Wallace chooses to break them up in different sections of the book. Even in the same section of Brief Interviews, many of the interviews are presented in slightly different formats, which was a great editorial choice. Ultimately, whenever a certain story falls a little bit flat, Wallace swoops in with an Interview to keep your trust and interest.

Another story I particularly liked, called Signifying Nothing, is a short, simple story about a man that, for no apparent reason, recalls a day that, as a child, his father wagged his penis at him. Wallace presents this possibly scarring situation with a hilarious absurdity. The main character is not angry or horrified, but simply confused about why such a thing would ever happen, which is an easily understandable position. There is nothing hugely distinctive or experimental in this story; just simple plot and great dialogue and characterization. The main character’s line upon confronting his dad made the story for me: “I sort of briefly described what I had remembered, and asked him, ‘What the fuck was up with that?’” Wallace’s dialogue is nearly always spot-on, and often incredibly funny. It’s actually sort of unfortunate that he doesn’t use as much of it, as the narration doesn’t benefit as much from the crazy situations, characters and devices that he applies.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t call Brief Interviews With Hideous Men a masterpiece. It is somewhat inconsistent in quality, ranging from page-turn-a-minute brilliant, to page-turn-a-second-because-you-just-skipped-five-of-them boring. However, it is clear that David Foster Wallace is a literary mind to be reckoned with, and I look forward to reading more of his work. It’s a shame we lost him prematurely, as I could certainly see myself smiling with glee after finding the release date of his newest novel.

8/10

You are, unfortunately, Matt Borgard, and you’ve just finished your latest review…

*Is it appropriate to talk about a deceased writer in the present tense? I’ve always been told to speak about books as if they are happening in present time, but something about this just seems wrong. **
**Don’t include this in the blog.