Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Backbone" by David Foster Wallace

"Backbone" by David Foster Wallace (2011-published posthumously -5 pages)

I admit I had not heard of David Foster Wallace (1962 to 2008-USA)  until the publicity generated by his suicide.   I learned he had written a massive book, Infinite Jest (1996) that was said to rival Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's  Rainbow in terms of complexity.   Most of the blog posts I have seen on Wallace centered on his life and not his work.   I was glad to find that the New Yorker had recently published one of his short stories.   Short stories are often a good way to "try out a writer". 

"Backbone" is about a peculiar young boy who early on develops an ambition that will dominate his life.   He wants to press his lips against every square inch of his own body.    Any story that starts out like that will at least make us go "Hum".     The boy's ambition is compared in very scientific terminology (as if from a medical case study) to extreme religious devotees who spent a life time mortifying their bodies.   The boy is subject to extensive medical and psychological examinations but no understanding of his obsession  is ever obtained.

We meet the boy's father, a famous motivational speaker given to quoting the literary canon in his speeches, who does not seem overly concerned or even interested in his son's problem.   His mother never enters the picture.   The entire story is pretty much taken up with a very scientific sounding account of why the boy has the obsession he has.     The language used is that of a medical practitioner with an advanced education in compulsions such as the boy's.     We never learn why he developed his compulsion-we see him through maybe ages 6 to 9 or so.  

To me this story was interesting, it was a very creative and interesting concept.   I would call it clever.    I read it because I was curious about Wallace and I am glad I did.   Based on this story, I feel no great push to read Infinite Jest.   Maybe next year I can work it in my reading life.   If any reader has a greater experience with Wallace, please leave a comment

You can read it for free online here

Mel u


LuAnn said...

I haven't heard of this man, either. I plan to read his short story in the near future, but at a glance, I probably agree with you.

Suko said...

David Wallace Foster caught my attention several years ago for a sensitive piece he wrote called Consider the Lobster. He was an excellent writer. He was also a writing professor at the Claremont Colleges (my alma mater). I know that he was a brilliant man who suffered from depression. Infinite Jest is a book I plan on tackling in the future.

Suko said...

That should be David Foster Wallace--I often mix up the order of the names. Sorry.

Ben said...

I will be all over this story, like a fat kid on cake. Thank you so much for that. I had no idea it was published. I'm one of those almost-cultish Wallace readers.

Mel u said...

Luann-so much I have learned from blogging

Suko-very interesting-maybe we can set a joint read of some kind on Infinite Jest sometime

Ben-tell us more on Wallace please

Short Story Slore said...

I read his Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and I'm still trying to get up the nerve to read Infinite Jest. Perhaps I'll try out his short stories first...

Elliot James said...

It reminded me of the work of JG Ballard, and, in a way, Borroughs. Using words and a form of radical writing to create a different form of consciousness, a different way of seeing reality, a different way of thinking.