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by David Foster Wallace

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Little, Brown and Company
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5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)


David Foster Wallace has made an art of taking readers into places no other writer even gets hear. In this new collection, the author extends his range and craft in twenty-two stories that intertwine hilarity with an escalating disquiet to create almost unbearable tensions. These stories venture inside minds and landscapes that are at once recognizable and utterly strange: a boy paralyzed by fear atop a high diving board ("Forever Overhead"), a poet lounging contented beside his pool ("Death Is Not the End"), a young couple experiencing sexual uncertainties ("Adult World"), a depressed woman soliciting comfort from her threadbare support network ("The Depressed Person," chosen for Prize Stories 1999: The O. Henry Awards). The series of stories from which the book takes its title is a tour de force sequence of imagined interviews with men on the subject of their relations with women. These portraits of men at their most self-justifying, loquacious, and benighted explore poignantly and hilariously the agonies of sexual connection.

Editorial Reviews

Greil Marcus
...[T]he result is definitively American and confident: Martin Amis with nothing to prove....[E]ven as you might focus on details of how the story has been put together...there's less and less sense of an author; the story seems to be running on its own power, as if not even its author could stop it.

Related Subjects

  • ">American Short Stories - 20th Century
  • ">Literary Fiction - Other

    Read an Excerpt

    Chapter One


    Death Is Not the End

    The fifty-six-year-old American poet, a Nobel Laureate, a poet known in American literary circles as 'the poet's poet' or sometimes simply 'the Poet,' lay outside on the deck, bare-chested, moderately overweight, in a partially reclined deck chair, in the sun, reading, half supine, moderately but not severely overweight, winner of two National Book Awards, a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Lamont Prize, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Prix de Rome, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, a MacDowell Medal, and a Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a president emeritus of PEN, a poet two separate American generations have hailed as the voice of their generation, now fifty-six, lying in an unwet XL Speedo-brand swimsuit in an incrementally reclinable canvas deck chair on the tile deck beside the home's pool, a poet who was among the first ten Americans to receive a 'Genius Grant' from the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of only three American recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature now living, 5'8'', 181 lbs., brown/brown, hairline unevenly recessed because of the inconsistent acceptance/rejection of various Hair Augmentation Systems—brand transplants, he sat, or lay—or perhaps most accurately just 'reclined'—in a black Speedo swimsuit by the home's kidney-shaped pool,1 on the pool's tile deck, in a portable deck chair whose back was now reclined four clicks to an angle of 35° w/r/t the deck's mosaic tile, at 10:20 a.m. on 15 May 1995, the fourth most anthologized poet in the history of American belles lettres, near an umbrella but not in the actual shade of the umbrella, reading Newsweek magazine,2 using the modest swell of his abdomen as an angled support for the magazine, also wearing thongs, one hand behind his head, the other hand out to the side and trailing on the dun-and-ochre filigree of the deck's expensive Spanish ceramic tile, occasionally wetting a finger to turn the page, wearing prescription sunglasses whose lenses were chemically treated to darken in fractional proportion to the luminous intensity of the light to which they were exposed, wearing on the trailing hand a wristwatch of middling quality and expense, simulated-rubber thongs on his feet, legs crossed at the ankle and knees slightly spread, the sky cloudless and brightening as the morning's sun moved up and right, wetting a finger not with saliva or perspiration but with the condensation on the slender frosted glass of iced tea that rested now just on the border of his body's shadow to the chair's upper left and would have to be moved to remain in that cool shadow, tracing a finger idly down the glass's side before bringing the moist finger idly up to the page, occasionally turning the pages of the 19 September 1994 edition of Newsweek magazine1, reading about American health-care reform and about USAir's tragic Flight 427, reading a summary and favorable review of the popular nonfiction volumes Hot Zone and The Coming Plague, sometimes turning several pages in succession, skimming certain articles and summaries, an eminent American poet now four months short of his fifty-seventh birthday, a poet whom Newsweek magazine's chief competitor, Time, had once rather absurdly called 'the closest thing to a genuine literary immortal now living,' his shins nearly hairless, the open umbrella's elliptic shadow tightening slightly, the thongs' simulated rubber pebbled on both sides of the sole, the poet's forehead dotted with perspiration, his tan deep and rich, the insides of his upper legs nearly hairless, his penis curled tightly on itself inside the tight swimsuit, his Vandyke neatly trimmed, an ashtray on the iron table, not drinking his iced tea, occasionally clearing his throat, at intervals shifting slightly in the pastel deck chair to scratch idly at the instep of one foot with the big toe of the other foot without removing his thongs or looking at either foot, seemingly intent on the magazine, the blue pool to his right and the home's thick glass sliding rear door to his oblique left, between himself and the pool a round table of white woven iron impaled at the center by a large beach umbrella whose shadow now no longer touches the pool, an indisputably accomplished poet, reading his magazine in his chair on his deck by his pool behind his home. The home's pool and deck area is surrounded on three sides by trees and shrubbery. The trees and shrubbery, installed years before, are densely interwoven and tangled and serve the same essential function as a redwood privacy fence or a wall of fine stone. It is the height of spring, and the trees and shrubbery are in full leaf and are intensely green and still, and are complexly shadowed, and the sky is wholly blue and still, so that the whole enclosed tableau of pool and deck and poet and chair and table and trees and home's rear façade is very still and composed and very nearly wholly silent, the soft gurgle of the pool's pump and drain and the occasional sound of the poet clearing his throat or turning the pages of Newsweek magazine the only sounds—not a bird, no distant lawn mowers or hedge trimmers or weed-eating devices, no jets overhead or distant muffled sounds from the pools of the homes on either side of the poet's home—nothing but the pool's respiration and poet's occasional cleared throat, wholly still and composed and enclosed, not even a hint of a breeze to stir the leaves of the trees and shrubbery, the silent living enclosing flora's motionless green vivid and inescapable and not like anything else in the world in either appearance or suggestion.3


    * * *

    1. Also the first American-born poet ever in the Nobel Prize for Literature's distinguished 94-year history to receive it, the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature.

    2. Never the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, however: thrice rejected early in his career, he had reason to believe that something personal and/or political was afoot with the Guggenheim Fellowship committee, and had decided that he'd simply be damned, starve utterly, before he would ever again hire a graduate assistant to fill out the tiresome triplicate Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship application and go through the tiresome contemptible farce of 'objective' consideration ever again.

    3. That is not wholly true.

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