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Oblivion: Stories

Oblivion : Stories

June 2004

David Foster Wallace's third collection of short stories.

  • Oblivion: Stories
    A collection for which David Foster Wallace will not be forgotten.

    The eight stories brought together in Oblivion make for the most consistent and thought provoking collection of shorts published by David Foster Wallace in his career thus far. I know; this is a big call.

    The casual Wallace reader will experience new stories of marketing espionage (Mister Squishy), reminiscences of childhood trauma (The Soul is Not a Smithy), parental fear (Incarnations of Burned Children), stunningly obfuscated philosophical sociology (Another Pioneer), harrowing and enlightening personal interrogation (Good Old Neon), possibly more social philosophy (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature), a complexly troubled relationship (Oblivion), and a closing story that defies even the lame and possibly offensive pigeonholing I’ve given to all of the others (because, well, this is a short review not an essay, and I refuse to spoil any of it); a story that screams out to be acknowledged for its post 9/11 reflection, while at the same time stares me in the face with menace for even suggesting this (and boy does The Suffering Channel stand above a simplistic post 9/11 reading… no surprises there).

    The style is characteristically and familiarly ‘Wallace’ and at the same time demonstrates a distinct evolution across all stories: the sentences are noticeably shorter, and footnotes are few and far between. What hasn’t changed is the depth, Wallace’s text still reads like a person who sees the tip of the iceberg and knows the majority of it lies under the surface. I’m just glad I don’t have the same diving equipment, because what’s to be discovered down there can be terrifying, and it’s not just the dark.

    I mentioned it above, consistency. My initial thought upon completion was that the title story was the weakest of the collection. In fact, I was mightily disappointed with Oblivion, even more so because it made up half of what, to me, was new material in this collection.

    I was wrong.

    Oblivion, and everything that I wanted to forget about it would not be forgotten. I could not shake it, and thus I read it again, and again. The more I wanted to dismiss the story, the greater was its grasp upon me, I still find myself unable to articulate quite why this is. What I can be certain of is that I feel resonances from Oblivion throughout the collection.

    For the fan(atic) who has already got their hands on everything Wallace has written since the previous collection, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, only the final two shorts in the collection are unfamiliar, Oblivion and The Suffering Channel. This should not be seen as a loss as this collection enables all to be experienced side by side; for the themes to interweave, for the reality and unreality of these tales to breed and multiply. This collection is a sleeper; when you finally wake to it you will not be able to push it from the dark corners of your mind easily (nor shine a torch there just to check that nothing is lurking, watching, waiting for you to turn your back on it).

    Private fears, memories, social interaction and psychological warfare; some of the stories in Oblivion consider unspeakable aspects of life we wish we could push to irretrievable parts of our consciousness, if only they let us. You’ll have to do the best that you can, because this collection does everything it can to avoid its own fate.

    OBLIVION: Stories, in stores June 2004.

6/13: Los Angeles 3:00 PM WRITERS BLOC/Presents David Foster Wallace @
Writers Guild Theater
*Special Guest TBA
*Reserve tickets ($ 20) 310-335-0917 (events line) or
at (online)
6/17: San Francisco 8:00 PM CITY ARTS & LECTURES and A Clean Well
Lighted Place for Books
Present David Foster Wallace
@ Cafe Du Nord, Swedish Hall
*In conversation with David Kipen
*Reserve tickets (12$) 415-392-4400 (box office) or at (online)
6/22: Philadelphia 7:00 PM FREE LIBRARY and JOSEPH FOX BOOKS Present
David Foster Wallace @ Free Library, Montgomery
*Special Guest Introducer TBA; Free
6/25: Boston 7:00 PM WORDSWORTH BOOKS/Presents
David Foster Wallace @First Parish Church
*Stay tuned for more details! Free
6/29: New York City 7:00 PM @ THE PUBLIC THEATER
*Special Guest TBA, as part of Housing Works Used
Book Café's "author2author" interview series; Free



  • The Books has a brief review of OBLIVION: Stories up, as well as a link to one complete story from the collection, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (which itself is a retitled and slightly edited version of, "Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VIII)" from McSweeney's Quarterly Concern in October 1998).

    Not a bad little short at all if you haven't read it before, and certainly representative of the quality of the collection. Also one of the two very short pieces (the rest are much longer), of which the other is Incarnations of Burned Children (from Esquire in 2001). (Added 19/5/04)
  • Text and the Smithy, Village Voice literary supplement review. ( link) (20/5/04)
  • Time Online's, 'The Horror Of Sameness' is a new and positive review of Oblivion: Stories. (31/5/04)
  • This New York Times (may require free registration) review of Oblivion: Stories is the least postive I have read yet. As a fan I find it hard to agree with some of the justifications given, but I must keep in mind that I am a fan and that this naturally skews my opinion. (I still hold to my statements that this collection holds some of DFW's strongest and most powerful short fiction). (1/6/04)
  • Playback has posted Stephen Schenkenberg's review of Oblivion: Stories. (1/6/04)
  • A new review of Oblivion (by Bob Wake) can be found over at
  • The NYT Michiko Kakutani (See news June 1st 2004) review of Oblivion has appeared in edited form in a number of other publications:
  • Review in The Register Guard. (9/6/04)
  • Review at International Herald Tribune Online. (9/6/04)
  • Irony and Heart from, by Daniel Handler's a.k.a. Lemony Snicket. (13/6/04)
  • Stories well worth the work from by Ken Babstock. (13/6/04)
  • Wallace's all-over-the-map approach pays off from by Andrew Ervin. (13/6/04)
  • Number Cruncher from The San Diego Tribune by Jan Wildt. (16/6/04)
  • A kind of compilation review over at by Ben Williams. (16/6/04)
  • Clever `Oblivion' fails to stir heart from The Mercury News by Charles Matthews. (14/6/04)
  • Oblivion: Genius Overload from New York Times online by Walter Kirn. (27/6/04)
  • Facing 'Oblivion' worth the effort from Daily Yomiuri by Brad Quinn Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer. (27/6/04)
  • Listen to a great new audio NPR interview over at The Connection. (25/6/04)
  • Two polished gems in thicket of words from Miami Herald by Ariel Gonzalez. (27/6/04)
  • All in all, `Oblivion' should be jetted off to its namesake from by Charles Matthews. (27/6/04)
  • Laura Miller's, The horror, the horror, in (1/7/04) 
  • Chad Harbach's review for n+1. (22/7/04)
  • Steven Poole's review, Clause and effect, for The Guardian. (24/7/04)
  • A review and interesting essay about DFW titled 'The Digressionist' by James Wood in The New Republic. (31/7/04)
  • Consider Oblivion by Tom Rakewell vs The nature of the Container Daniel Green at The Reading Experience. (8/8/04)
  • Sean O'Brien's review, Mirror, mirror, off the wall, for The Independent. (12/8/04)
  • London Review of Books - Don’t like it? You don’t have to play (18/11/04)
  • DFW on Oblivion, TTBOOK with Steve Paulson. (30/7/06)

(Special thanks to Manav who found some reviews I'd missed back in '04 and encouraged me to fix all the broken links.)

Last Updated on Monday, 02 April 2012 03:38  

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