Monday, September 15, 2008

Reader's Diary 396- David Foster Wallace: Good People

Short Story Monday
David Foster Wallace by Steve Rhodes, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Steve Rhodes
From The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 14th, 2008:
"CLAREMONT, Calif. -- David Foster Wallace, the author best known for his 1996 novel 'Infinite Jest,' was found dead in his home, according to police. He was 46.

Mr. Wallace's wife found her husband had hanged himself when she returned home about 9:30 p.m. Friday, said Jackie Morales, a records clerk with the Claremont Police Department."

Asides from hearing of Infinite Jest, I haven't had any encounters with David Foster Wallace's writing, so it seems like the appropriate time to remedy that.

A quick Google search found me his short story, "Good People" published in the New Yorker, February 2007. Odd that both this week and last I've stumbled upon a short story with strong religious themes.

Plot-wise some might say "Good People" is pretty simple: a young, unwed and devoutly Christian couple find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy and are considering their options. Told from a limited third-person narrative, the story's real depth unfolds as a set of ethical and religious dilemmas for Lane, the male of the relationship. Weighing over them most heavily, is the appointment Sheri has made.

I appreciated many aspects of the story. Most notably, the depth and sympathy with which Wallace painted this couple. I'm not sure if you've watched the documentary Jesus Camp, but I remember looking forward to it, mostly because I believed what the distributor had said, it "doesn't come with any prepackaged point of view" and tries to be "an honest and impartial depiction of one faction of the evangelical Christian community." Well, that turned out to not be entirely true. It was very clear, very early on what the point was.

Because I don't want to get into any religious or political debates here, I'll avoid stating whether or not I agree with the point of that movie. I will say, however, that no person can be reduced to a religion. People are far too complex for that and generally wrestle with "right" or "wrong" regardless of their faith. I thought it was very refreshing to read Wallace's depiction of these people without any trace of judgement on his part.

I wasn't fussy, however, on the awkwardness of his writing. The clumsy first sentence,
"They were up on a picnic table at that park by the lake, by the edge of the lake, with part of a downed tree in the shallows half hidden by the bank."
was typical of the rest of the story. Not only did I stumble over that repetition, but I never did get a very clear sense of the geography of the place, and found Wallace's descriptions less than helpful. But, there were enough questions raised after the first reading, that it warrants a few more: What was the point of the man staring across the lake? Was it significant that the word abortion was never used despite all the references to Sheri's appointment? And if it was significant, was it supposed to have some parallel to the fact that Lane had never used the word love with Sheri?
It looks as if Wallace was able to construct a very compelling story. And, as with every suicide, the world is at a loss for words.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

How sad about the author.

The point you make about the repetition in the description at the lake, sometimes that sort of repetition can be used very effectively, mostly when portraying some sort of movement. It doesn't sound like that's the case here, though.

Teena in Toronto said...

Very sad :(

I just finished another Canadian book:

My 7th!

Bybee said...

The non-use of the word "abortion" might have been a homage to Hemingway who never used it in "Hills Like White Elephants", another story about an unplanned pregnancy and a looming apointment.

Or not.