Good Old Neon – Story Review

It would be easy to make much of this story in light of David Foster Wallace’s own suicide but I’m not sure that I have it in me to draw those comparisons. They are there, clearly,  but it’s just not something that I care to explore – at least not explicitly. The idea of taking someone’s work and attempting to apply it like a blanket to an author’s life seems, at the same time, too easy and too constructionist. I say constructionist because there comes a point where you simply can’t know the artist (or perhaps anyone) well enough to come to any sort of definite conclusion. So what you end up doing is constructing something to bridge circumstances to art to life and trying to dress these bridges in a certain way that presents them as near fact. Is there a part of an artist in all of their creations? Of course. Could you represent a story like Good Old Neon as a preface to an eventual suicide note? Sure. But it seems like an ugly process to me.

Looking at the story itself, again, the narrator comes out and lets you know that he isn’t reliable. And by the end of the story, when you discover that the bulk of the story wasn’t in fact first person but a sort of omniscient third person where the actual narrator is “David Wallace” relating a story that you must assume is largely inferred of the circumstances surrounding the suicide of someone he went to high school with. So even if the narrator isn’t being literally or cognitively dishonest, you still have to remember that there is a certain quality of the telephone game to this. Similar to “Another Pioneer” where a story is presented to the reader as overheard on a long planeflight of someone in another seat relaying this story to someone else, you have to become aware of the opportunities for individual interpretation to find its way into the re-telling of the story.

Personally, I prefer to read this as a straight metafictional autobiography rather than some sort of plea for help from suicidal thoughts. Looking at this story, how it follows “Another Pioneer,” and how the theme of unreliability of the story teller is carried over, Wallace seems to, again, be riffing on the lack of reliability in all story tellers. It’s something that makes me think of Brecht and the attempt to separate the audience from the work to make them think of the work. By forcing/asking/whatevering the reader to step back from whatever world they are trying to immerse themselves in and to look and think about what is being said and why it is being said, it seems to be a plea for the reader to become more discerning about what they read. For good and for ill.

“Good Old Neon” can hold up to this detached viewing. The story that continuously wraps back around itself, adding layer to layer, as the narrator recounts a life of continuously attempting to not only tailor himself but to tailor the expectations of those around to fit some idealized notion of who he should be, to  maintain the highest possible opinion of him by everyone, is not only sufficiently complex but also sufficiently enjoyable. Part of me has to wonder how Wallace felt about the average page turner. The books that typically end up on bestseller lists, books that are ripped through by voracious readers, devoured like a gluttonous meal before being just as easily discarded so as to move on to the next bestselling smörgåsbord.  thinking of some of the books that I have read, I am not sure they would stand up to a near constant distancing.

At the same time, I would question the good of practiced distancing from everything you read. Part of the power of a piece of art is the ability to capture someone and pull them not just emotionally but psychologically into a moment, a fabricated world. forcing yourself to become immune to such pulls seems to be just as much a disservice as a positive push towards retrospection and introspection. Part of the beauty of the power of art is its ability to pull a person in and to allow for the experience of something beyond the person’s own.

Which may come back around to the narrator’s original problem, the ability to give himself over not only to himself but to others. The idea that a person is constantly attempting to manipulate every situation and interaction for the greatest possible personal benefit strikes me as being very similar to this idea of distancing from works of art, specifically literature. In the end, perhaps Wallace is saying this attempt is ultimately a hollow endeavor that leaves the individual equally as hollow.


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One Response to “Good Old Neon – Story Review”

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

    […] Good Old Neon […]

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