Mr. Squishy – Story Review

Mr. Squishy is a dense, jargon filled, lumbering behemoth of horror. Except I don’t think horror is the correct term. Terror or dread are much closer to the truth, for Mr. Squishy and for the collection as a whole, in describing the feeling fostered by its reading. Mr. Squishy is a 64 page story built around the machinations of an ad agency, their focus group for a product of high end snack cakes, and the levels of secrecy, of study, and of office politics that layer over each other.

Throughout the work we are barraged with lingo, with jargon, with symbols I frankly don’t know if there is a greater meaning to outside of their being a simple symbol used for naming. For instance, one group is designated by a triangle with a y immediately following it. Having never taken a marketing class, or involved in any type of advertising corporate structure, I can only take such a symbol, first, at face value and then see if such a symbol can also have a meaning within the story but which is disconnected from any “real world” meaning the symbol may have in marketing.

The rampant use of jargon/symbols/etc. combined with Wallace’s signature maximalist density is something that nearly made the story a non-starter for the collection as a whole. Whether the story is really a masterpiece whose complexity is so great that I simply can not appreciate it for what it is or it is just a cumbersome piece of work that lumbers along beneath the weight of its own over-written immensity, I’m not sure. Either way, I’m not sure it was the best way to begin a story collection but is something Wallace can get away with by the simple weight of his reputation.

Perhaps the language was meant to help foster this idea of otherness, of terror, of displacing the reader into an uncomfortable world where the language is near foreign (it would be interesting to see how this story would be translated to foreign language and how much of the dense jargon is kept and how much is replaced by an erstwhile translator trying to make it more “accessible”).  But it’s too jarring to have this effect, at least within the context of the story. Instead, it creates a tension outside of the story, constantly removing you from the reading with a state of discomfort. It could be that Wallace was gunning for a Brecthian response, creating a work so jarring that it forces the reader to disconnect from the work to give the work greater thought and to force the passive viewer into active participation with the text, but this isn’t something that is consistant with other stories within the collection or with Wallace’s past. While his other works can be lengthy/cumbersome/etc., they can also be accessible – something this work can not claim to be in any real shape or form.

A way to read Mr. Squishy that might be more rewarding would be to read it as a bleak satire on case studies and business management course material. Not only is the story filled with specialized verbage but it also written with a certain disconnect that is reminiscent of college text books. Full of information, ordered in a seemingly coherent (but strangely inaccessible manner), it smacks of a $112 text book a student is forced to buy once, use for three semesters and never open again.

In the end, I think this was just a story that didn’t quite work. The idea of exploring the drama within an ad agency doing focus group testing that is just the facade for other tests being done upon the test takers in an effort to even more narrowly refine the information gleaned from the focus group testing, and repeating this over and over to construct a multi-layered conspiracy worthy of The X-File s (but minus the aliens)(maybe) has a lot of potential and Wallace was a writer who could be counted on to do something different, complex and interesting with it. Only his work seems to buckle a bit beneath the weight of its own complexity.

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4 Responses to “Mr. Squishy – Story Review”

  1. Oblivion by David Foster Wallace – Book Review « Loose Leaf Bound Says:

    […] Mr. Squishy […]

  2. SamK Says:

    Mr. Squishy took forever to read, and yes I agree the whole conspiracy was too complex for me to understand. I’m glad I finished it. I was a business major along with engineering and I always felt this empty feeling whenever I was learning about maketing. I kept wondering if marketing focus group really did fade away.

  3. Colin Says:

    The triangle is the lower-case Greek letter delta. So “team ∆y” would be pronounced “team delta y”. In most branches of mathematics it means “the change in”, so ∆y means “the change in y”. In looking at a graph, you are interested in the change in y (the dependant variable on the vertical axis) with respect to x (the independent variable on the horizontal axis). Just fyi.

  4. sorry Says:

    Over all i was very confused by the end of the story but enjoyed parts of it because of his ability to hit a nerve with dark and coldly calculated manipulations of reaching into peoples untapped desires who think(like myself) that they are able to avoid the regular pitfalls of advertising ploys.

    “Mister Squishy’s advertisers had to force team Delta Y to manipulate and cajole Focus Groups Into producing just the sort of quote unquote ‘objective’ statistical data needed to greenlight the project and get Felonies! on the shelves, all in other words comprising just the sort of arch and tongue-in-cheek pseudo-behind-the-scenes Story designed to appeal to urban or younger consumers’ self-imagined savvy about marketing tactics and ‘objective’ data and to flatter their sense that in this age of metastatic spin and trend and the complete commercialization of every last thing in their world they were unprecedentedly ad-savvy and discerning and canny and well nigh impossible to manipulate by any sorts of clever multimillion-dollar marketing campaign.”

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