Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

It’s hard to write a negative review of a story collection by a prize-winning writer who committed suicide. David Foster Wallace experienced major depression so treatment-resistant that he underwent electroconvulsive therapy, self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, and endured frequent psychiatric hospitalizations. However, in all fairness and impartiality, a bad book can’t be burnished by the tragic death of its author. Anyone who read — and disliked — two of this collection’s pieces in Esquire and The New Yorker received fair warning to avoid Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. However, such a critically lauded and influential writer seemingly deserved one more chance. A couple of the shortest stories (“Forever Overhead,” the first part of the “The Devil is a Busy Man”) are interesting and even laugh-provoking, but the remaining narratives are tedious. Like Jon Stewart’s Naked Pictures of Famous People, which was published within a year of Brief Interviews, this collection works too hard and self-consciously to be entertaining. During his studies, Wallace would have benefited from reading Barry Hannah’s work and learning the methods and madness of the Mississippi master of the dry and quietly hilarious short story.

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