cover image Girl with Curious Hair

Girl with Curious Hair

David Foster Wallace. W. W. Norton & Company, $17.95 (373pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02757-0

Wallace caused a critical stir with his first novel, The Broom of the System , and this volume of stories is likely to attract equal attention. His publisher talks about post -postmodernism, whatever that means, but there is a highly unusual eye and ear at work here, and an impressive armory of writerly skills. All too often, however, the stories seem like dazzling exercises, show-off pieces designed to provoke applause rather than expressions of a consistent vision. Two stories about the morbidly incestuous world of TV, ``Little Expressionless Animals'' and ``My Appearance,'' catch perfectly the obsessiveness and fatuity of quiz- and talk-show people, and ``Lyndon'' is a tour de force in which the late president looms very large indeed. The title story is an experiment in the outre, about a grotesque Los Angeles yuppie and his punk friends, that seems designed to shock rather than illuminate. In ``Say Never'' Wallace enters an Isaac Bashevis Singer world, though naturally he gives it an odd twist. And the longest and most ambitious story, ``Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,'' deliberately flaunts writing-school experimentalism in its overwritten, satirical account of a Midwestern reunion of actors in McDonald's ads. Wallace has talent to burn, and is an endlessly inventive storyteller, but one wishes he wasn't also such an exhibitionist. (Aug.)