After finishing Oblivion, Good Old Neon, Mr. Squishy, Incarnations of Burned Children, I felt a little frustrated with Wallace. Not that the stories don’t live up to his normal standard of writing. To the contrary, some of these, including Good Old Neon and Incarnations of Burned Children, might be his best short works. But it seems that in this collection Wallace really doesn’t want to placate the reader. Each time, we are left before the moment of completion. We’re close to being resolved, but not quite close enough to be satisfied. And it’s not just that the endings are difficult to interpret. We’re left (it seems to me) with a hollowness that lacks the unfamiliar twinge of hope or at least humor that we usually find by the end of Wallace’s pieces.
My interpretation of this is a bit like my mom’s favorite life lesson- instant gratification. As readers, we are always seeking a gratification of our needs right away: our need to be calmed, resolved, entertained, fulfilled, completed… Throughout the DFW stuff we have read, it’s always been a challenge for us, as readers, to trust and hold on rather than give up. Wallace likes to make us wait a bit with the promise of understanding later. But these stories seem a little mean at times. He keeps dumping stuff on us at the last minute: what is with the last dialogue in Oblivion? The whole story I was dying to see Hope embarrassed to find that, in fact, Randall was truly awake and not snoring each time she yelled at him. He had me right on a leash, following to the end to see exactly who is at fault. And the end dialogue, from what I got out of it, was trying to point toward something completely different, with no winner or loser(reality vs. dream? relationship? whaaaat?). Not to mention the lack of resolution of this creepy sexual step-father complex everyone has that is fairly disturbing and unsettling. I couldn’t even quite decide whether I liked the narrator, because the whole Audrey obsession thing seemed fairly normal to him by the end. Similarly, in Mr. Squishy we seem to be waiting for something the entire time. Descriptions and exposition seem like build-up and preparation for the main action that is to come… but somehow the main action never comes. Is the main action actually the build-up? Did we completely miss the point waiting for the real exciting part to come? We are so accustomed to getting to the climax that we miss what comes before.
Even in Good Old Neon I felt frustrated by the end. Yes, the narrator does the deed that he’s been readying us for all along. He’s promised to do so, and follows through in describing what it feels like to die. But the end threw this “David Wallace” spin at us too quickly to resolve. We’re left sort of in the lurch, uneasy. I was hoping for at least another page of some kind of slow unravel. Rather, David Wallace is introduced to us on the second-to-last page and sort of blows through an entire emotional battle/ inner turmoil before we quite get what is going on.
Not to complain. Surely Wallace has reasons for making these endings more difficult for the reader than usual. And I think it’s more than just making us work harder. I can’t help but lean toward some clichÃ© “carpe diem” thing, you know, enjoy the moment before you get dumped off to soon at the end. That somehow our lives become these waiting games, pushing towards that thing that we think we’ll maybe achieve tomorrow or next year. Or perhaps the joke is on us, because we have allowed Wallace to string us along waiting for the main action to take place (Mr. Squishy), or for our expectations to be proven true or false (Oblivion). Maybe we, particularly as American readers, have come to expect some sort of trauma to come (Mr. Squishy). From what I know of Wallace, there’s got to be something philosophical going on in these dissolved endings. Thoughts??