"Good People" by David Foster Wallace

New Yorker fiction -- February 5, 2007 issue

yellow light
I'm going to try and get back into reviewing stories, and this'n here will be a baby step. I feel like I'm getting rusty -- all I read are novels now. Anyway, this'n here is a baby step because this this'n here isn't much of a story. Nothing happens in the action -- literally nothing. What we get are the thoughts of Lane A. Dean, Jr., a student at a junior college, as he sits with his girlfriend on a park bench. She is pregnant and they have scheduled an abortion. They are devout Christians. They are torn. He has an imaginary conversation with her in his head. He doesn't love her -- or does he?

A certain member of our class was once told dismissively in workshop by Frank Conroy: "That's not a story -- that's a dilemma." Ding ding ding ding ding! This particular dilemma, of course, was covered many years ago in "Hills Like White Elephants." One difference is: Hemingway made it into a story. One thing that helped make that a story was that the woman got to say stuff -- out loud. Her character got to be developed in the action, producing dramatized conflict. Still, the writing here is excellent, as you would expect. DFW gets way, way into his character's head, and the piece can be sucked profitably for that kind of juice, but that's the sole reason this doesn't get a red light.

Is this very short piece an excerpt from a forthcoming novel? Would it be published if the author's name were Delbert Fawcett Walcott? These are questions that sprang to this rusty story-reader's mind.

Prairie Lights cancels reading after threat

Last night, a scheduled "Live From Prairie Lights" reading in Iowa City was canceled because of security threats. The book was Abortion Under Attack: Women on the Challenges Facing Choice, and the reading was to have been done by Krista Jacobs. How much more "pro-life" can you get than threatening the lives of innocent people? Good job, wingnuts.

I've never heard of a reading there being canceled, for any reason. This is depressing.



So, I'm in my office, waiting for a student, and I google my name on a whim -- and lookee what comes up:

My Audience

It's the third thing down -- no one asked, and only the good Lord (or a sexy barely legal teen) knows where they came across it. I am planning on asking -- but ...

I'm oddly touched. Not even oddly -- I'm seriously touched (as are many of the sexy barely legal teens). I haven't been this happy about my writing since Connie said I was in the Workshop (though my first Workshop with Ethan where Jennifer Haigh had up a really lovely story about adult relationships and I had up a story about clones and the law firm that caters to them was up there too). It looks like they posted the thing simply because the oglers of sexy barely legal teens like it -- or it presents a nice break from touching one's self (which I've always thought of as being the real strength of my stories -- providing breaks from touching one's self -- basically that's what writing does for me). These folks seem to like it for no other reason but that they like it -- not that it's cool, or particularly literary, or even any good (it's pretty freaking clunky, but what are ya gonna do?).

And I think I've found my audience (I'm not even kidding) -- one of the thing that gets me down at times is that I flip through your average lit mag and realize there is no place for me there.

But, this -- this is a possibility ...

So, weird eh?

Weird and wonderful.

Like sexy barely legal teens.


Contests: American Idol for writers, and finish a Fitzgerald story for McSweeney's

A Simon and Shuster imprint is putting together an American Idol-type contest for writers, with the prize a publishing contract. (I think America's Next Top Model would be a better inspiration, but hey.) And McSweeney's has taken a list of F. Scott Fitzgerald's idea for stories that he never wrote and wants you to write one. (Thanks to traca da broon for finding these.)


R.E.M., Van Halen inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Here is the story. Seems like only yesterday we were all atwitter about Ozzy getting his wings.

Money quote: "... His replacement, Sammy Hagar, was fired in 1996 and returned for an uncomfortable reunion tour in 2004. Bass player Michael Anthony was ousted last year, replaced by Eddie's 15-year-old son, Wolfgang."

In case you're skeptical that a 15-year-old could play bass for Van Halen, have another listen to the bass part for "Running With the Devil."

Grandmaster Flash also got in.

Grandmaster Flash is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And, if I may anticipate Brando, Geddy Lee isn't.


Our new governor

From Deval Patrick's inauguration address today (how feakin' cool is this?):

"Our founders came on the Mayflower, the Arabella, and the early clipper ships. But there were other boats, too. There was the Amistad and her cargo of kidnapped Africans, who commandeered the ship to sail home to Africa, but who were seized in Long Island Sound and imprisoned in New Haven.

On this very day 165 years ago, a young man named Kinna, who had been part of that rebellion, sent a letter from prison to our own John Quincy Adams, who had retired from public life at home in Massachusetts.

Kinna pleaded with Adams to help the 36 captives from his ship to earn their freedom. Adams took the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court and won.

As a gesture of thanks and respect, the Africans gave Adams a Bible, called the Mendi Bible, after their tribal homeland.

I took the oath this morning with my hand resting on that same Bible -- and with my resolve strengthened by that same legacy."

My Secret Shames

Lumpy and I have a game when we go on driving trips where we talk about our "Secret Shame Bands" -- basically bands we really like, but are in no way cool (her big winner is Boston, mine is John Cougar Mellencamp -- and I include "Cougar" deliberately). Today, as I was sitting in the Dunkin' Donuts Drive Thru, I popped in a Foo Fighters CD, and, I must say, I was enjoying myself pretty thoroughly. But, as I played drums on my steering wheel, I began to ponder why Foo Fighters aren't "cool," and I came up with a list of 5 bands which I think are really good but are, for one reason or another, not cool at all (or at least as far as I can tell -- they could be cool in some circles -- but I don't see the kids wearing the t-shirts), and not so uncool they come back around the other end to "cool" -- such as Journey, which was name-checked by Dave Eggers (plus, the "nah-nahs" in "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" are undeniable) or Bon Jovi. Here's my 5, what are yours?

Foo Fighters -- Something about them is clearly uncool. The hooks? That they're not Nirvana? Who knows? But "Stacked Actors" off of Nothing Left to Loose is one of the most exciting openings to an album in years (especially when the bass kicks in).

Rush -- Perenially uncool. Led Zeppelin could get away with singing about The Lord of the Rings and vikings, why can't these guys?

The Cult -- In my opinion, producers of two of the best albums of the '80s -- Love and Electric (plastic lobster telephone lyrics and all). And one of the best live shows I've ever seen (possibly because my friend Alison took down Ian Astbury by grabbing his balls in a groupie frenzy while my other friend (officially voted the prettiest girl at my high school) distracted the security guards by smiling and giggling a lot). Plus, I like the fact that their name kept getting shorter for a while, as shown on the new Goth box set, which includes tunes by "The Southern Death Cult," "The Death Cult," and "The Cult." Look for a new album by "Ult." Lumpy and I's final wedding dance song was "Wildflower."

Drivin' and Cryin' -- Great Southern Rock. Saw them on tour with Living Colour, which was a little bit of a weird bill.

Third Eye Blind -- I got the Greatest Hits package about a month ago, and the first seven songs are perfect power pop. What happened with those dudes? Was it the Curse of Winona Ryder (whereby the actress's romantic interest in your band leads to it beginning to suck mightily. See, e.g., Soul Asylum, Jamiroquai, and Paul Westerberg)?


With Our Hooves on the Pulse of American Letters

So, the Lump is being profiled in an encyclopedia of notable writers for libraries and what not -- the encyclopedia in question sent her their already researched entry so she can make sure it is correct (besides saying I went to the University of Illinois Writers Workshop and no mention of my sainthood or Allen Ruskin, it's pretty O.K.) -- but, LOOK where they got their info from:

"Writing Fumbling proved to be an essential part of Egan's grieving process. In an online interview for Earth Goat, Egan commented that writing "was a necessary part of my grieving, as necessary as the pilgrimage was.""

Pretty nifty, eh Grendel? One day, perhaps I too will merit an interview from the "Grand Inquisitorial Evelyn Waugh of the Literary Blogosphere" and stop having to interview myself.

And, another weird thing, I'm on a professional listserv for legal writing, and the posters were having an argument over a posting referencing Jesus and praying for the Muslims and what not, and someone posted this:

"The second is to share from a book that I read about a theologian's ruminationswhile on a lengthy pilgrimage in Spain. She told the story of someone she had counselled who had suffered abuse at the hands of a religious authority figure. Expecting that person to be bitter or angry, she found that he had a remarkablegenerosity of spirit. He told her that he believed that in general, everyonedoes the best that he/she can. She observed and he conceded that a person'sbest may not, objectively, be very good. Think about it. If you look at the world as filled with flawed people who are,in general, doing the best that they can, it changes so much. Your students whodon't perform as well as you would like, your colleagues who annoy you, the check-out person at the grocery who doesn't know your celeriac from your rutabaga--they're all doing the best that they can with the talents and abilityand decision-making skill they have in that moment. Wouldn't you appreciate itif the rest of the world thought that about you?"

Basically, I thought it was a neat coincidence, and as much as I would like to get on the listserv and post the name and title of the book (with an Amazon link), I thought that would be pretty tacky.

So, I thought I'd put it up on Earthgoat to get the weird sense of a ours being a very small world out of my system.

And to make me feel like writing is still important in our Internet and television age.