Some of the 23 stories in Wallace's bold, uneven, bitterly satirical second collection seem bound for best-of-the-year anthologies; a few others will leave even devoted Wallace fans befuddled. The rest of the stories fall between perplexing and brilliant, but what is most striking about this volume as a whole are the gloomy moral obsessions at the heart of Wallace's new work. Like his recent essays, these stories (many of which have been serialized in Harper's, Esquire and the Paris Review) are largely an attack on the sexual heroics of mainstream postwar fiction, an almost religious attempt to rescue (when not exposing as a fraud) the idea of romantic love. In the ""interviews,"" that make up the title story, one man after another--speaking to a woman whose voice we never hear--reveals the pathetic creepiness of his romantic conquests and fantasies. These hideous men aren't the collection's only monsters of isolation. In ""Adult World,"" Wallace writes of a young wife obsessed with fears that her husband is secretly, compulsively masturbating; in ""The Depressed Person,"" one of Wallace's (rare) female narcissists whines that she is a ""solipsistic, self-consumed, endless emotional vacuum""--this, to a dying friend. If MacArthur Fellowship-winner Wallace's rendition of our verbal tics and trash is less astonishing now than in earlier work (Infinite Jest; A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again), that is because it has already become the way we hear ourselves talk. Wallace seems to have stripped down his prose in order to more pointedly probe distinct structures (i.e., footnoted psychotherapy journal, a pop quiz format). Yet these stories, at their best, show an erotic savagery and intellectual depth that will confound, fascinate and disturb the most unsuspecting reader as well as devoted fans of this talented writer. Author tour. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999 Release date: 05/01/1999 Genre: Fiction
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