The Best of McSweeney’s Vol.1

I’m going to stick this to the top of the blog and add to it as I go on (hopefully one story a day).

As always, I approach contemporary literary fiction with the terrible fear I might find some of it to be of value: a fear usually quickly dissipated by an examination of the texts in question.

David Foster Wallace

DFW continues his programme of annoying me by splitting infinitives (and just to rub it in, doing it in the very first sentence) just because he read somewhere it wasn’t really a proper rule of English language whilst simultaneously being a stickler for all the other non-existent rules of English language which he hasn’t read aren’t really proper rules of English language (and which tragically no one is ever any more going to be in a position to point out to him). Story contains all usual DFW tics; and is structured much like Simon’s Conducting Bodies too, which we read the other week.

George Saunders

“Four Institutional Monologues”, written in a variety of technical styles (e.g. management speak, product design, scientific experiment) with a good lot of technical vocabulary – the last was the only one I found of much interest. It’s like Alain Robbe-Grillet, without anything that makes Robbe-Grillet a worthwhile writer. I’m guessing I’m meant to draw conclusions as to how the monologues complement one another: treating groups as groups and not individuals, prejudging things, a distrust of theorising, something anyway opposing an objective world-view. Certainly we seem to be in the world of the nouveau roman in this collection.

Paul LaFarge

The Observers was a pretty good story, well-written. I’ve never heard of Paul LaFarge. His Wikipedia page hints at novels which actually sound quite interesting. I might read some more by him. [Indeed, I’ve just gone off to Amazon and ordered a book by him.]

Paul Collins

Walking on the Rings of Saturn is another good story, and would make me think my investigation was all going wrong and there was in fact some good in contemporary fiction, if it weren’t for one salient fact about it: it’s not fiction. Not that, now I look at, this collection ever claimed to be wholly comprised of fiction. But it’s not in question, in my mind, that there isn’t a lot of very good and very interesting non-fiction being written in the world. Indeed, one of the experiences of my reading it was that it was just about the time I thought it was quite good that I started suspecting it was also true. It’s about this character here, and in particular his belief in extra-terrestrial life.

Zadie Smith

An easy story about nothing much: a short comic account of a relationship!

Ann Cummins

Struggled to find much interest in this one – the entire thing irritated me in some indefinable way. I think it was because it was similar in concept to an account of a dream – something which always annoys me for some reason in literature and quickly leads to my becoming bored.

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