Letter 35: Brief Interviews – Interview #20


Dear Dave,

I began to question whether this day would actually arrive, but I am writing my last Letter for Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.  It has been one of the most difficult books to read, but also one of the most rewarding.  I’m still not sure I fully “get” all the stories in the collection; I’m still mentally working through some of the Interviews, a task that I’m sure will continue for weeks and months to come.

Interview #20 was probably my favorite, but also the most challenging, of the book.  As a friend put it, “[the Interview] could be the subject of a three-volume book of essays: it’s fabulously deep and wondrous and richly rewarding.  Lots of narrative levels at once, lots of moral probing going on, lots of lexical mastery on display.”  It took much discussion, both face-to-face with friends and online with friends and fellow fans of your work, to find the right words to articulate my thoughts and response to this particular story.

It seems the focus of our attention ought to be on the Interviewee himself.[1] He seems to assert himself as the focus of the story; he recalls the “Granola Cruncher’s” story not for its horrific significance to the story’s teller, but for how it impacted him.  He manages to turn the retelling of a terrifying encounter with a serial rapist into a story of a life-changing epiphany for him.[2]

I want to focus instead on the Granola Cruncher herself.[3] The possible conclusions reached through exploring her character and story are far more intriguing than those of Interviewee #20.

First, whether it is from her heavily apostrophe-laden religion or her ability to achieve a superhuman level of consciousness or her having learned from previous experience, she appears to have an innate ability to draw the truth out of others.  In her story of her encounter with the serial rapist, she says she knew the moment the car door closed that she was in trouble.  Using her powers of mental and spiritual focus, she extracts a confession of his true intentions shortly after she gets into the car.  It’s not explicitly stated – after all, the story is retold by #20 – but it’s possible that she uses those same powers of focus to get #20 to confess all he is after is a one-night fling with an attractive woman.  No one can successfully lie to her.

Second, she is able to take control of potentially dangerous, or in the least compromising, situations.  In the case of the encounter with rapist, she once again uses her powers of mental and spiritual focus to gain the upper hand on her assailant and save her life.  She maintains eye contact throughout the encounter, and through seemingly loving physical touch, she is able to save her own life.  Hardly saying a word, she reaches into the inner parts of the rapist’s psyche and convinces him to spare her life.

With #20 she uses a very different, yet equally effective, means to gain control of the situation.  #20 is upfront with her about the fact that all he wants is one night with her.  She turns the table on him and takes control of the situation with her post-coital story about her night with rapist.[4] By the end of her story, she has him weeping like a baby and eating out of her hand.

Once she has control of the situation, she uses her control to get exactly what she wants.  In the case of the experience with the rapist, all she wants is to live another day.  She uses her powers of focus to show him the love seemingly absent from his life so that he will spare her life.

In the case of the rapist, defining what she wants is very simple.  Not so much in the case of #20.  In this instance, what is it that she wants, exactly? I see several possibilities:

It could be another instance of simply wanting to survive.  If her story of being assaulted is true, I’d imagine she would be rather wary of guys trying to pick her up at concerts in the park.  Just as she feigned love to survive the rape, she might be telling this story to make a quick escape from #20’s apartment.  She will let him have what he wants – just as she did with the rapist – but will go no further.[5]

Or perhaps it is to teach #20 a lesson.  When he first spots her from across the park, all he sees is a sexy body he wants to hook up with.  She isn’t a person with heart and soul; she is merely one night of pleasure.  But through her story, he has this epiphany.  He sees the emptiness of his own soul and experiences what he thinks is real love for the first time.  If that is her intent, then mission accomplished.

Or I wonder if it was her way of getting back at him, and all the other pigs he might represent to her.  He tells her upfront that all she is to him is a one-time fling.  All he wants is her body.  He has no intent of seeing her again, and he hopes she doesn’t linger to long in his apartment because he finds her rather annoying.  He has it all planned out; if he is so impressive in bed that she asks for his number, he has a fake number to give her to dodge her calls without a guilty conscience.

Maybe she is turning the table on him to one-up him at his own game.  She isn’t going to be the one left wanting more.  She isn’t going to be the one wondering why he never returns her calls.  She isn’t going to be the one heartbroken over being just another notch in some guy’s bedpost.  Insert her gut-wrenching story of being raped and almost killed by a serial killer.  She coldly and calculatedly evokes every conceivable emotion out of #20.  Once she sees him in tears, she knows he is putty in her hand.  He has taken the bait hook, line, and sinker.  He is the one left wanting more.  He is the one thinking he is in love with a woman he has only known for a few hours.  He is the one who will be wondering if he will ever know love like this again.

In the end, she makes the same move he intended to make; just the details are different.  Instead of a fake number, she leaves behind her worn-out sandals.  A constant reminder of what he missed out on.  The sad thing is he doesn’t even get it.  He doesn’t know he’s been played.  He’s left love-struck and in tears.  She leaves with the satisfaction of having – perhaps once again – gotten the upper hand on yet another chauvinist pig.

Well played, Granola Cruncher.  Well played.


[1] Although at the end of the film adaptation of the book, it is this interview that begins the research project that is the unifying thread of the film’s narrative.  John Krasinski does a superb job adapting the book and playing the character of Interviewee #20.  The context of this interview being the confession of an unfaithful boyfriend is a fascinating twist, as well as a great premise upon which to build the story for the rest of the interviews to take place.

[2] Whenever I tell friends who have not heard of it about this book, I basically sum it up by saying the title is pretty self-explanatory.

[3] I not only find her character extremely fascinating, but my mind is still swimming on what to make of Interviewee #20.  I’m still working my way through the narrative levels and probing the moral implications of his story.

[4] Which, I have my doubts about the veracity of her story.  There is the stoicism with which she tells her story.  No emotion, not a single tear.  This non-emotional response to her own story might be a defense mechanism; if she can objectively remove herself from the experience, perhaps it is easier to deal with.  But I can’t really see anyone being that coldly removed from what was surely a terrifying experience.

There is also the fact that she so willingly goes home with a stranger she just met with only one thing on his mind.  Why would a rational person open herself up to another potentially dangerous situation?

I’m wondering if it was all made up; her way of getting into the head of #20 – and who knows how many other one-night stands – to gain control of the situation and exact her own plans for the evening.

[5] If, through her heavily apostrophe-laden, she has reached a higher plane of consciousness, then perhaps the sacrifice of her body in order to save her soul is a worthwhile exchange.

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One thought on “Letter 35: Brief Interviews – Interview #20

  1. I decided to take a look at what you had posted when I saw the link on wallace-l, as Interview #20 is one of my favorite Wallace pieces. I guess it is testimony to the brilliance of DFW’s writing skills and the ambiguity of parts of this story (George Carr is absolutely right, IMHO), but my take on this couldn’t be more different than yours. It’s like we read completely different stories. I urge you to pursue another reading…not that I believe my interpretation is necessarily more valid than anyone else’s but that you have misread parts and would benefit from closer scrutiny. One point I will argue, however. The g.c. is not the primary character in this story. Remember the title of the book.
    An interesting aside…if you have the Lipsky book handy, take a minute to read the sections where Wallace talks about his obsession with Alanis Morrisette. It’s pretty clear from the language he uses that she was the physical model he used for the g.c. Best regards, Teresa

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