Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Edgy Post-Modern Writers with Three Names

There was no way I was gonna start with Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace's masterwork/clusterfuck/paperweight, so I checked out his first novel The Broom of the System from the library instead. It's under 500 pages, which makes it novella in comparison, and indeed it actually read quite fast. Before this I struggled my way through The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, a book that's quite a bit more R rated than the movie (par for the Ellis course).

This is all to say that after reading these books I'm done with Ellis for a long while. On the other hand I'll probably pick up a book of Wallace's non-fiction the next chance I get. In a funny way these two writers seem to compare a bit of Shepard Farley and Jeff Koons who I wrote about not long ago. Ellis, like Koons is an enigma of an artist. Both seem to have this real indifference to other human life, although Ellis's boarders on hatred. None of the characters in The Rules of Attraction or Less Than Zero (which I had read last year) have any redeeming qualities. Money makes you numb. Youth makes you numb. LA makes you numb. New England makes you numb. Listening to a Talking Heads album will not make you un-numb. Everyone is numb, and so they have sex a lot, because young people have sex. His work gets a bit numbing after a while, and this is without even reading American Psycho.

Wallace, like Farley is a maximalist. I can't stretch the metaphor much beyond that, except to say that both can fit lays upon layers with a real deft-ness. The Broom of the System switches styles, every few pages or so. At times the character Rick Vigorous is narrating, but most of the novel is dialogue without any added explanation of who is speaking. That said, after reading a page or so, it becomes clear who is conversing. He also weaves in a number of short stories for good measure. All of this adds up to a sort of philosophical mystery novel. Solving the mystery is less important that asking why, and Wallace uses the entire novel to question and pontificate. This is without a doubt a boys novel, with a silly randomness that sits somewhere between Vonnegut and Pynchon. I can see why Wallace developed such a passionate following, he had a humility and humor that certainly remind me of Vonnegut's best work.

4 comments:

Matt Lindeboom said...

Speaking of Wallace's non-fiction, have you read "Consider the Lobster?" One of my favorites.

Charlie Rose did an interview with DFW a few years ago. Elucidating. I love to put a voice and a face to the written words.

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/5639

Anne said...

Never stop reading (not that you ever would) , and while you're at it never stop blogging. I enjoy your posts too much.

B.Graham said...

Now Bret Easton Ellis is something we can agree on.

I put down Glamorama about a year and a half ago and haven't had the heart (or perhaps more accurately, the stomach) to pick it back up. Rules of Attraction was a little easier to get through, ie I actually did get through it, but it was definitely a disappointment after the movie. Possibly the only time I've ever thought as such.

Max Nova said...

@Matt -- Good call.

I picked up Consider the Lobster yesterday and read through that essay, as well as the excessively detailed opening piece on the adult film industry. Lovely stuff thus far.