Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 09/20/08 at 01:08 AM ET
This isn’t about hockey. This is only scarcely about sports at all. Add to that, I’m a week late. Last Friday, American writer David Foster Wallace died of apparent suicide by hanging. He was 46. Wallace, who was best known for his behemoth 1996 novel
, was a huge tennis fan and a former player himself.
With a glove tap to Bitter Leaf Fan, I’ll make what will probably be my one and only post entirely devoted to literature.
I remember reading a review of his best-selling novel in Alternative Press magazine back in April or May of 1996. The review was absolutely glowing. At that point in my life, I was a much more devoted reader of novels, and I scooped up a hardbound copy. Everyone who was anyone was talking about how incredible
was, and I couldn’t wait to read it myself.
Unfortunately, I found the book to be magnificently unreadable. From his Faulknerian meandering long-winded prose to his ridiculous use of acronyms to his intentional use of obscure words, Wallace had lost me. As frustrated as I was by all this, I was completely mesmerized by his beautiful description of the tennis parts of the story (and the word “story” is applied generously here). Those bits almost made the rest of it endurable for me, but at some point, on an airplane somewhere, I gave up. I quit reading the book on page 481, which is 500 pages shy of the finish line. And that’s not even counting the 96 pages of endnotes and stuff.
In the end, I decided that
is the type of book that people liked to have laying around on their coffee table, and people still like to display on their bookshelf as a badge or their pseudo-intellectuality or their hipness or whatever. Check the Amazon.com user reviews of the book, and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. If the book sold 4 million copies, I’d be surprised if 25,000 were read from cover to cover. The irony is that I myself bought the book for that very reason
I’ve read some of Wallace’s short fiction, and I find that stuff to be a little more palatable, but still frustrating.
As I said, the tennis parts from
are mind-blowing in their depth of detail. If you want an example of some phenomenal writing that Wallace did about tennis, the following article from the New York Times Magazine a couple of years ago is a must-read (pdf format)
Federer as Religious Experience.
Still, I ‘ll take the writing of Michael Chabon over David Foster Wallace any day of the week.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.