David Foster Wallace

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men Summary

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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a 1999 short story collection by the acclaimed American writer David Foster Wallace. The stories, particularly the four that take the form of the “Brief Interviews” of the title, have been adapted on both stage and screen, including a 2009 film version directed by John Krasinski.

The first story, “A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life,” is only two paragraphs long, introducing the themes of the difficulty of dating, relationships, and social anxiety. “Death is Not the End” speaks in detail about the flabby body and visage of a successful American poet, along with the lush greenery of the plants that surround him in his backyard as he reads an issue of Newsweek magazine. “Forever Overhead” takes place in Tucson, Arizona, and concerns the pains and tribulations of puberty for a thirteen-year-old boy who goes swimming on his birthday.

The fourth story is the first of four “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.” They are transcripts of interviews with men, but the author only transcribes the answers, while the interview questions are identified only by the letter “Q.” This first iteration, like the rest, contains multiple interviews with men who recount their difficulties when it comes to dating and relationships.

“Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders,” concerns a narrator who is deeply distressed by a recurring nightmare in which he is blind. “The Depressed Person,” is about a woman’s struggle with depression. She attends therapies and has numerous moments of recognition that could be referred to as breakthroughs. Nevertheless, with each breakthrough, the woman only exacerbates her depression by doubling down on unhealthy habits and thought patterns. “The Devil is a Busy Man” is about a narrator whose father finds that it’s much easier to get rid of the junk in his garage if he lists the price as $5 or $10 versus offering it for free, which causes people to be overly suspicious of the merchandise.

“Think” is about a husband whose wife and son go out of town. While they are away, the husband is seduced by a woman who claims to be the younger sister of his wife’s old college roommate. In the end, the husband doesn’t cheat with his wife, less out of faithfulness to her and more because the seductress’ attempts to woo him are awkward because she is clearly just repeating lines from books, movies, and TV shows she has seen. “Signifying Nothing” is about a young man who, upon moving out of his parents’ house at the age of twenty, suddenly relives a repressed memory from his youth of his father waving his penis in the narrator’s face. The narrator confronts his father about it, but his father’s response—a long silent stare, perhaps signifying denial, or perhaps signifying nothing—haunts the narrator for months to come.

The second collection of “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” includes conversations with a subject who has a deformed arm and another who alternates between admiring and despising his father, among other interview subjects. “Datum Centurio” takes place in the year 2096, when dating has been taken over by the government to save it from becoming obsolete in the wake of ultra-realistic virtual reality pornography. “Octet” is styled as a “Pop Quiz” with various logic scenarios that one might read in the LSAT test, for example—except that the scenarios are complicated and ambiguous, including one involving two drug addicts who huddle together for warmth at night. “Adult World” is about a woman who worries around the time of her third wedding anniversary that she is no longer able to satisfy her husband in bed.
The fourteenth story is a sequel to “The Devil is a Busy Man,” though it doesn’t seem to have any overt or explicit connection to the previous installment of the same name. It concerns a man who tries to commit a truly selfless act of generosity by donating money to a married couple and covering his tracks so he can never receive any praise or recognition for the deed.

“Church Not Made With Hands” is about an art therapist who travels to the homes of patients who have experienced extreme trauma. The sixteenth story is a sequel to “Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders.” It concerns the dissolution of a marriage in the 1950s.