Letter 36: BI – Forever Overhead Revisited


Dear Dave,

It’s been over a week since I finished Brief Interviews and wrote my last Letter, which attempted – albeit rather feebly and perhaps too hastily – to read Interview #20 through the eyes of the Granola Cruncher.  As I pause in my reading of your works,[1] I find myself continuing to go back to the stories I have read over the past few months.  It has been a lot to take in and try to digest.

Driving home from work today, my mind wandered back to the adolescent boy from “Forever Overhead” and his plunge from the high dive into the unknown.  This timid climb and then triumphant dive is his coming of age, his rite of passage into manhood.  But as I mentioned in Letter 29, what is in that water below is unknown; we are left with the welcoming “Hello” of the last line, but we don’t know who is welcoming him or into what he is being welcomed.

If the the four pages that precede it and the over three hundred pages that follow it are any indication, things don’t look good for our little friend.  If he is to enter the world inhabited by these interviewees, there is not much hope for him maintaining that youthful innocence.  Or worse yet, is he destined to become one of the interviewees himself?

The world of the interviewees – the Asset, the ‘VICTORY FOR THE FORCES OF DEMOCRATIC FREEDOM’ guy, the Men’s Room attendant, the Chicken-sexer, #46, #20 – is a… hideous one indeed.  It makes me cringe to think the young man of “Forever Overhead” is plunging into that world, may be overcome by that world, and may end up just another number or nickname in some anonymous interviewer’s notebook.

But he seems so innocent and untainted as he marches across the pool deck and joins the queue at the bottom of the ladder.  Is there any hope of holding onto that innocence?  Is there any chance he can navigate the treacherous waters of the adult pool and emerge unscathed?

I think the end of the story answers that question – in a roundabout sort of way.  The last few lines read:

So which is the lie?  Hard or soft?  Silence or time”

The lie is that it’s one or the other.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other: innocence or depravity.  It is a hideous world out there, but in the midst of that hideousness is beauty and truth and innocence.  Granted, only twelve of the 321 pages of this book focus on this innocence, but it’s there.  And I’ve read enough of your stories and essays to know that you can see and almost poetically describe the hideousness and depravity that infects our world.  But you also see the beauty and innocence and sneak it into even the most awful of situations.

Zadie Smith describes this book as a “Difficult Gift.”  Much of that difficulty lies in the layers of narrative and complexity and hideousness[2] of characters that inhabit this collection of stories.  But the gift – at least one of them – is that in the midst of all that, there are these little glimpses of beauty found lurking in corners, or standing invisibly in a Men’s room, or perched atop the high dive of the public swimming pool.

Thanks, Dave, for those beautiful gifts.

[1] I am taking a short respite from DFW by reading one of Mark Twain’s lesser known works, The Tragedy of Puddin’head Wilson.  After struggling through BI for the last three months, I needed something a little more light-hearted.[back]

[2] I keep coming back to that titular word, but am struggling to find a better one.[back]

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