SOUNDTRACK: TOPLESS WOMEN TALK ABOUT THEIR LIVES soundtrack (2006).
I learned about this soundtrack from a very cool article in The Believer (the beginning of which is online here). In the piece, the author claims to have never seen the film (he was given the soundtrack by a friend) and he doesn’t want to change his associations with the music by watching the film. And now, I too can say I have never seen the film, and likely never will. And I really enjoy the soundtrack too.
The soundtrack is sort of an excuse to showcase a bunch of bands from New Zealand’s Flying Nun record label. Featured artists are The 3DS, The Bats, The Clean, Superette, Snapper, The Chills, Straightjacket Fits, and Chris Knox.
It’s nigh impossible to give an overarching style to these songs. Even when the bands have multiple songs on the soundtrack, they are not repetitive at all. Even trying to represent a genre would be difficult. The opener “Hey Suess” is almost a surf-punk song, while Chris Knox’s gorgeous “Not Given Lightly” is a stunning ballad. There’s a cool shoe-gazer song “Saskatchewan,” and some great simple indie rock (a bunch of other tracks).
The only thing these bands have in common is that they’re all from New Zealand. And as with any large body of land, no two bands are going to sound alike. Nevertheless, all of the bands fall under the indie rock umbrella. It’s a great collection of songs that many people probably haven’t heard. It’s worth tracking down for the great collection of tunes and, if all you know about New Zealand is The Flight of the Conchords.
[READ: September 24, 2009] Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
After finishing Infinite Jest I wasn’t sure just how much more DFW I would want to read right away (of course, seeing as how I have now read almost all of his uncollected work, that is a rather moot point). But when I saw that John Krasinski (of TV’s The Office) was making a film of this book, I had to jump in and read it again.
Obviously, there are many questions to be asked about this film (). Is it going to be based on all the stories in the book? (Surely not, some are completely unrelated). Is it going to be just the interviews? (Probably, and yet there’s no overall narrative structure there). And, having seen the trailer, I know structure is present. I’m quite interested in the film. In part because I didn’t LOVE the stories. Well, that’s not quite right. I enjoyed them very much, but since they weren’t stories per se, just dialogue, I’m not afraid of the stories getting turned into something else. The text isn’t sacred to me, which may indeed make for the perfect set-up for a film.
Anyhow, onto the stories.
The obvious joke is that the author of Infinite Jest has created a book with “Brief” in the title! But indeed, many of these stories are quite brief. Some are only a couple of paragraphs (which true, from DFW that could still be ten pages). But, indeed, most of the interviews in the book are brief too (except the final one in the book, which is nearly 30 pages).
There are a couple of very long pieces, most of which follow DFW’s now-signature roundabout style. But it’s these new short pieces that are quite a change of pace. And I have to say I’m mixed on them. Most of them feel like sketches: a scene or two but little more. And while plot is not essential to every story, it often feels like these are experiments in writing shorter pieces.
The title stories (the Brief Interviews) (some of which appeared in Harper’s and one of these Harper’s stories (the first one (#16)) does not appear in the book) are indeed brief interviews. They are scattered throughout the book in seemingly random order. But I’ll look at them in numerical order.
The basic conceit here is that each hideous man is being interviewed by an unamed interlocutor whose questions remain unseen. Most of the questions regard sexuality or women (although some deviate). And the men have different perspectives on situations (some of them offensive, but most of them offer an insight that is almost shocking in its frankness). Nealy all of the men are “educated” which means they get to use interesting terms, either literary or psychological. And one or two have even studied feminism, it would seem.
I’m not going to review each B.I. because that would be silly. The stories don’t really “do” anything beyond giving a picture of a man. There’s not necessarily a plot (although some do have a plot) and there’s no real resolution to most of them. And yet I found them all quite engaging (some more than others, obviously).
But so here is a one-line summary of the context of each B.I. There is no indication that the gaps in numbers mean there were other interviews.
B.I. #2: “Honest” explanation of how he can never fall in love with you.
B.I. #3: A dialogue about a man “assisting” a woman at the airport whose fiancee was not on the flight.
B.I. #11: Man is leaving the questioner (this seems to break the mold of the B.I. set-up, as the questioner does not appear to be the same one and I wonder how the film will address it).
B.I. #14: Man screams inappropriate things upon orgasm (very funny).
B.I. #15: Bondage with relation to parent issues.
B.I. #16: (Harper’s only) Dad laughs when son is too impetuous (quite funny and worth clicking on the link for).
B.I. #19: I like you cuz yer smart.
B.I. #20: Not brief at all. This is the tour de force interview about a man who falls for a woman only when she relates the story of her abduction.
B.I. #28: Intellectualized dialogue between two men about how difficult it is to be a woman (no specific interlocutor here).
B.I. #30: He marries her because she has a good body. Anything wrong with that?
B.I. #31: The selfishness of the Great Lover vs the honesty of the selfish lover.
B.I. #36: Self-help is good.
B.I. #40: Man with deformed arm.
B.I. #42: Man whose father worked as a bathroom attendant.
B.I. #46: Rape could be a meaningful experience, like the Holocaust (features my favorite New Jersey-ism “Alls I’m sayin'”).
B.I. #48: Third date=asks to tie her up=sexing a chicken (innuendo laden & hilarious).
B.I. #51: Fear of “what if I can’t?”
B.I. #59: Masturbation fantasies ruined by physics (very funny!).
B.I. #72: Weird twist ending (to the whole series?).
Another “series” in this book is “Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders.” This book collects numbers VI, XI and XXIV.
These are all very short pieces (about 2 pages) and they work more as sketches than actual stories. They don’t even work as flash fiction. After the length and detail of Infinite Jest and even many of the pieces in this collection, it’s hard to know what DFW was doing with these short pseudo-stories. I enjoyed VI and XXIV but not so much XI. VIII, which appeared in Oblivion but not here was very long and convoluted and quite enjoyable, very different in almost every way from the ones here.
As for the rest of the book, there are several very short pieces here (and one seems to have once had the “Yet Another…” title but has been changed for the collection. These short pieces include:
“A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life”
Two paragraphs about the effects of introducing people.
“Death is Not the End”
A Poet Laureate sits poolside, ruminating.
“The Devil is a Busy Man” (there are actually two stories with this title)
The first one (“Plus when he got…”) was originally called “Yet Another Instance of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XII)” and reveals how you can’t give things away for free…you’ve got to charge something even if it’s worth nothing.
“The Devil is a Busy Man”
The second one (“Three weeks ago…”) examines how revealing the secret of a good deed can actually make the deed evil.
A story of infidelity which changes dramatically, unexpectedly. Despite its unspecific information, it’s still a powerful story.
Here is a weird one for you. That’s how the story opens and that is what it is. In it, a man recounts a time when his father wagged his dick in front of him. The incident is never mentioned again. The story ends with a strange family reunion in which the incident is, indeed, not mentioned.
A lengthy definition of the word “date.” It is written as a very expansive definition, and the definitions do get funnier as they go along, although really this is sort of a lexicographer’s joke.
“Suicide as a Sort of Present.”
This story is the most complete story of these little vignettes, depressing at is may be. It is also rather unsettling.
In general, I’m not that big a fan of these shorter pieces. There’s nothing wrong with them per se, they just don’t do a lot for me.
That leaves these longer pieces:
This is a pretty great piece about a boy climbing to the top of the tall diving board at the community pool. It is one of Wallace’s great, detail-obsessed pieces. You can feel yourself on the ladder with the young boy.
“The Depressed Person”
Another of Wallace’s tour de force pieces. This story is quite long for what all happens in piece. However, its recursive nature and its attention to details perfectly encapsulates the mindset of a depressed person, trying desperately to reach out to friends that she has reached out to far too often already. A very moving piece. (It was published (I think a little differently) in Harper’s and is available here).
This piece is weird for many reasons. It is a footnote-fueled set of ostensibly eight pieces. However, the footnotes explain why there are not actually 8 pieces and why the whole piece has failed in its original intent. The pieces are designed as sort of pop quizzes, and yet as the footnotes explain, some of the original questions were just bad. And one question was reworked but the original version had to stay in for the rework to make sense. It’s a very meta- piece of fiction and is fairly fascinating. Although, what its point is is anyone’s guess. And, one gets the feeling that the footnotes are all true, and yet there is no way to know if this whole exercise is as DFW intended or was just a fun experiment.
“Adult World (I & II)”
This two-part story concerns the same characters. In the first part, we meet the young wife, a few years after she got married. She comes to the realization that her husband’s sexual proclivities have nothing to do with her. And that for the first few years of their marriage, she was foolish to be so self-deprecating. As is DFW’s way, the story wends it way around several different focal events but eventually curlicues around itself to get to the heart of the matter which is fully revealed in Part II.
Part II of the story (although actually Part 4) is designed in an entirely different format. It continues the story from where it left off, but it seems as if it is a rough draft for a skit or play. Strangely, this style increases the dramatic aspect of the story and makes it climax a lot faster.
It’s certainly a weirdly designed piece, and yet as experimental fiction it works quite well.
“Church Not Made with Hands”
This is one of my least favorite DFW pieces. I simply could not connect to anything that was going on. It is set up in several different “chapter” segments, but the surrealness of the story combined with the peculiar storyline never meshed for me.
“Tri-Stan: Sold Sissee nar to Ecko”
But this piece is probably my least favorite DFW piece of everything I’ve read by him. The conceit revolves around mythical characters trying to create shows for TV. I got a lot of the jokes and references in the story (Sissee Nar, etc). Even the title, Tristan & Isolde, I see a lot of what’s going on. And yet the whole conceit seemed simultaneously painfully obvious but also far too obscure. So I don’t know if I’m missing something crucial or if the conceit is just not well founded. I still haven’t figure out who Agon M. Nar is supposed to be (as it doesn’t conform to the Narcissus inversion style or even the Herm ‘Aprho’ Dite jokey style). Anyhow, this piece degenerates into a protracted (dream sequence?) attempt to sell a story about Narcissus’ beauty. This is also one of the few cases where I feel that DFW’s circuitous style fails him. The “metaphor” (or whatever it is) is working too hard to compete with the detail obsessed style, meaning you’re too busy thinking of two different aspects of the story to allow it to do what I think it wants to do. It’s also well known that DFW had a love/hate relationship with TV, and it seems like he is just taking potshots at TV as well.
“On His Deathbed Holding Your Hand, the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father Begs a Boon”
This is another very lengthy piece that doesn’t really go anywhere. And because of its very subject, I at first found it hard to bear. Basically the story is of a father on his deathbed relating how much he has always detested his son. Because yes, as a father there are things that your kids do that drive you crazy, but to hear someone this hateful and spiteful made me very uncomfortable. However, at about the midway point, the story really comes to life building to a fascinating twist at the end. I think you could lop off the first ten or so pages and make this an even more successful story. This is one of those rare cases where the repetitions and circles were just too circuitous. Not to say that that opening information wasn’t important. I just feel it was too much.
So, overall, I found this collection to be somewhat mixed. The strong stories were really great. The Brief Interviews were fun and interesting as character studies. And some of the short pieces were enjoyable as sketches. And yet, I can’t help but think that the short story is really not DFW’s strongest suit.