By now Canelli and I should have read to at least page 63 in #InfiniteWinter. And, I’ve gotta say, there’s a lot to talk about in those first 63 pages. I’ve already gone through some of it up to page 27. Now, I know I’ve already spent two posts talking about DFW’s “unworkshoppableness.” But here I want to talk about pages 27-31 (what I call “Interview with a Conversationalist”), pages 37-38 (“Wardine”), and pages 39-42 (“Mario’s Introduction”). These, I believe, aren’t “unworkshoppable.” In fact, they’re in desperate need of some workshopping.
First, “Interview with a Conversationalist” and “Mario’s Introduction.” These two sections are “talking head” sections: there is no action, just two characters having conversations. In these two cases, the conversations, happening six years apart, are meant to fill the reader in on what is happening in the book. It’s a classic case of exposition occurring in dialogue, and that’s kind of a no-no in general. Hal and his father attempt to have a convo about Hal’s supposed inability to have a convo (the moss, man–or is it Hal’s dad’s inability to properly interpret sounds coming out of people’s mouths due to his alcoholism?). During the convo, the political subplot, the father’s alcoholism, and Moms’s unfaithfulness (and possible involvement with the Quebeckers) are all revealed. Then, during “Mario’s Introduction,” we learn that the father has now passed away, everybody was sad, and the Moms has discovering a second life. It’s all so much information to slam the reader with, and it’s not handled very subtlety. The biggest problem is that we haven’t hit page 223 yet, so (unless we’ve already read the book) we have absolutely no idea how much time has passed. So this shit is massively confusing (which isn’t necessarily a Bad Thing) and delivered in a very clunky fashion (which kinda is).
And then there’s the “Wardine” section. Whew boy, what to make of this? The underlying story (which, as far as I can remember, we never return to) is tragic, but what about the way it’s…delivered to the reader? Is the narrator supposed to be a under-educated black person or a mentally disabled person? My, and many people’s, first reaction was “Wait, is this supposed to be some sort of ebonics?” This is always followed by the cringe of “What if it is?” Ugh. But this time through, the constant repetition of the names, the aversion to pronouns, broken grammar and simplified sentence structure, this time I’m thinking, “Maybe this is a Benji Compson or Lennie Small kind of thing?” Either way, though, I’m stuck thinking that this section is so…out of sorts…with the rest of the book. Why is it here? Especially when we never return (as far as I can remember) to this section or characters, ever. I’m just left thinking, “Why?”
So here are three sections I really wished DFW’s editors had enforced a bit more discipline. They’re terribly written, awkwardly delivered, and, one of which is, at least, somewhat offensive.* DFW is in such a rush to get us into the story that he’s sacrificed proper storytelling in the name of hackneyed “exposition and character introduction/development” delivered in the one way it shouldn’t: via dialogue.
* The kind of offensive that isn’t about challenging my own biases. It’s the kind of offensive that’s supposed to carry good intentions but ends up being the exact opposite when someone other than a white male reads/hears it.