I was curious about Girl with Curious Hair* because I am a straight up David Foster Wallace (DFW)-apologist after reading Infinite Jest. I wanted to know if his talent applied to a 1,000 plus page novel as well as stories as short as a page and a half. It does…sometimes.
The collection consists of ten stories, two of which are particularly impressive. “Little Expressionless Animals” gives us a fictional backstage pass to a season of Jeopardy! with a contestant who can’t be beat. DFW shows us a quirky Alex Trebek via conversations with his therapist and now I can’t look at him the same. The eponymous “Girl with Curious Hair” peeks into the mind of a sociopathic assumedly straight-laced Republican lawyer who has dark relationships with punk rocker friends. These contain obviously intriguing characters, and I could have read hundreds of pages about them.
Other stories are less exciting. His last and longest story, “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” is a piece of metafiction that is honestly very hard to follow. This move isn’t a first for DFW. He wore many hats and it’s clear how much research he puts into his subject matters. I like that Infinite Jest isn’t wholly accessible, but “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” does not speak to me. Perhaps it will for you.
DFW had a tendency to write consistently verbose characters no matter their background or education. I really like that style, and I think it makes him completely unique as a writer. He’s not succinct and he doesn’t want to be. He says, “Nunn manufactured a unarchitectural and spontaneous entryway in the bay window of the front of T. Rex’s spread’s Big House” instead of “Nunn broke down the door” (Wallace, 138). That’s his m.o., take it or leave it.
Not a single story in Girl with Curious Hair “ends” in the conventional sense. He leaves us with ellipses; haunts* me with ellipses in some cases. I selfishly want resolution in my stories and it’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re forced to set down characters you’ve become attached to. Girl with Curious Hair gets 4 out of 5 camel humps.
*Wallace, David Foster. Girl with Curious Hair. New York: Norton & Company, 1989. Print.