I mostly read David Foster Wallace’s Girl With Curious Hair , a collection of his short stories, and I mostly liked it.

The “mostly”s there are because I bogged down hard in the book-capping novella and uttered the Three Deadly Words — “Idon’t careabout thesepeople” — whereupon I quite happily put it down. But up until that point, I’d been vaguely enjoying it, in a loose and aimless sort of way.

(Aside: Why do short story collections always end with a damn novella? I mean, just at the point in your reading when you’re thinking, “Well, this is all very nice, but I think I’ve nearly had enough of this author’s stories,” they dump this whompin’ huge nearly novel-length thing on you. Getting bogged down in the final novella is a common experience in my collection/anthology reading life.)

Anyway, the big problem with the book is that it’s mainstream fiction. It’s maybe leaning up against the SF fence a bit, but it can’t even be described as straddling the genre border — it’s got both feet planted firmly on the mainstream side. This isn’t an inherent problem, mind; I’m told many people read non-genre fiction exclusively, even. But it fucked with my head, and I couldn’t get away from the disturbing feeling that there wasn’t much there there.

It makes me feel like the worst sort of know-nothing advocate of hard SF to complain that these were just stories about some unimportant, pathetic people, so I won’t do that. But I will say that it felt like there was something missing, which I can’t quite pinpoint. Maybe it’s just the moment of surprise that the best SF provides, when the world-building hints finally coalesce and you understand what’s going on; maybe it’s the uncertainty of open possibility that you get when you don’t know what the ground rules are for the story’s universe until you’re well into it; maybe it’s actually that I just want some damn robots and spaceships (though I tend to doubt it). Or hell, maybe I’m misdiagnosing things entirely, and the stories are lacking in some way that’d make them feel curiously empty even to exclusive readers of mainstream fiction.

But as empty and pointless stories go, these are good. Wallace has a deft hand with style — and not just one style, either. The stories in this collection are vastly dissimilar stylistically, ranging from the footnoted style that’s his trademark to a superb dialect-heavy story that was my favorite of the lot (and, coincidentally(?), the most SFnal) to fairly traditional narration. Enormous fun for a while, but ultimately unfulfilling.


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