Oblivion – Story Review

The end leaves you wondering why you read the whole story. While such an ending was a humorous way of conluding a Bob Newhart series, it didn’t work so well for explaining away the biggest moment in the history of Dallas. It doesn’t do a whole lot for this story, either. Finding out all of what preceded was just a dream by the wife rings out as a hollow ending, an attempt to be cute in a book almost entirely devoid of cuteness. On the one hand, it opens up the possibility of the dream being a look into some unconscious feelings towards the marriage.

We are led to believe that the husband has, in some way, been consciously sleeping, perhaps faking his snoring, on some weird subconcious level while actually asleep, to irritate his wife. The bulk of the story is told in the clubhouse at a golf club by the husband to his father-in-law, which seems like an odd choice for a confidant when you’re essentially saying his daughter is nuts and is making their marriage a living hell by her incessant complaining about his snoring.

Honestly, if that’s as far as the story went before the woman wakes up and its revealed that this whole mess was really just a dream, there wouldn’t be much more to write about. What might save the story from falling into its clichéd ending is the little twist revealed just before the turn where you are given a hint that, at some level, the husband is purposefully snoring while asleep, something that should be impossible. This possibility is given an extra little push by a moment in the video from the sleep clinic that shows him slyly opening one eye to look at his still sleeping wife while he is snoring.

Now, by itself this certainly lends a creepy aspect to the husband that may not have been entirely there before. If he is somehow willing himself to snore while in deep sleep, and is weirdly subconsciously/consciously watching his wife to see if he’s effective, it raises a disturbing question over how strong the human subconscious is and how much control is really can assert over  a person’s actions. But what happens when we realize that this is all a creation of his wife’s unconscious mind?

Also, how reliable now is the narrator for the previous story? Finding out that it was all a dream throws the reliability of the narrator into serious question as the very notion of a dream lends a certain fog of uncertainty to it. All readers know that dreams are not reality but can work as representations of something about reality. So now we can no longer honestly look at the majority of the story as any sort of fact but only as some sort of representation of fact. Much of this collection has centered on stories that have passed through a number of filters and we are left to decide what has been filtered out, what has been allowed to pass and why. Part of what this story comes down to must essentially fit into this theme that rears itself in the  majority of the other stories.

Speaking of filters, this story passes through at least three. One is her husband’s, who is the narrator for the bulk of the story. The second is, obviously, Hope’s subconscious mind that we find has constructed the events entirely, and the third is the almost entirely unseen (aside from a few lines of dialog at the end) conscious Hope. At some point, it becomes crucial to figure out the meaning of the story in how it must relate to the conscious Hope’s world,f or her world is the only world that is mitigated by unreality. It’s the only world that’s “real” but the only picture we can draw from it now is from inferences made from the dream world told through the imagined lens of her husband.

Part of me does not believe the story works because it simply doesn’t give us enough information we can concretely say is True. I feel it is entirely safe to say that Hope’s dream must in some way be representational of Hope’s reality but we can’t judge how representational it is or of what it might be representing. At the same time, I would be hesitant to say that determining how/what the dream represents is what matters to Wallace in this story. Perhaps the exploration of narrator and time is what Wallace is looking to explore and the lack of information to encourage a reading of representation/reality is purposeful.  It might be Wallace’s way  of focusing our attention on what he wants it focused on. Rather than having a better story, Wallace may have been pushing for a clearer point.

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2 Responses to “Oblivion – Story Review”

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

    […] Oblivion […]

  2. Karo Says:

    It takes a real artist to make “It was only a dream” work, but I think David Foster Wallace did it. He spends so much time showing to what absurd and rather futile lengths people go in their obsession to clearly delineate dream from reality, the question whether we have been presented with any facts becomes increasingly irrelevant.

    Also, the ending does so much more than just reveal that whatever came before was just a dream. It’s extremly disturbing.

    The husband in the dream comes across as super-creepy, long before his conscious-subconscious-snoring is revealed. I mean, he obviously wants to fuck his stepdaughter Aubrey (just as he assumes that Hope has been abused by her own stepfather). He suspect Hope of jealousy towards her daughter and deeply resents her for sending her away to college, which might explain any passive-aggressive snoring-strategies.

    Of course, since it’s Hope’s dream, she might just wrongly suspect him and indeed be jealous of Aubrey. Or maybe Aubrey is only a product of the dream and a placeholder for something else she resents her husband for or the representation of a fracture of her younger self before her own abuse. (She asks “Who is Aubrey?” after all)

    We cannot really know anything, but I do get a strong vibe that Hope has indeed been abused by her stepfather (although this too is called into question by bringing up the concept of fabricated “retrieved” memories in context with another relative) and in this light, it’s of couse extremly disturbing when she calls the person next to her “Daddy?” when she wakes. (Followed by “Just lie back down” – how chilling is that?)

    As readers we cannot know what is really going on (Hope herself denies the reality of the wake-up scene), but we do get a pretty clear idea, that it’s something sick. All those disturbing vibes – the profound hostility between the pair, the shadow of abuse, the deep-seated resentment, the passive-aggressiveness – we got in the dream are carried over to the final scene, presumed ‘reality’ – no “it was just a dream” could undermine their horrible truth. The precise facts are details that pale in its light.

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