‘Good People’ by David Foster Wallace

Wallace, David Foster 2007

Good People by David Foster Wallace, 2007

The magic trick:

Restricting nearly all of the story to Lane’s thoughts

This is dense stuff. We have two teenagers, devoted to their Christian faith and maybe not so devoted to each other, wrestling with an abortion decision. That alone is a premise that makes for an interesting story. The thoughtfulness of the execution seals the deal.

Thoughtfulness is meant literally too, as the story takes place nearly entirely within Lane’s thoughts. Very little is said. Even less happens. But the gears of the boy’s mind turn and churn and churn and turn. Sometimes that’s more than enough to hold the reader’s interest. And that’s quite a trick on Wallace’s part.

The selection:

What he believed in was a living God of compassion and love and the possibility of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through whom this love was enacted in human time. But sitting here beside this girl as unknown to him now as outer space, waiting for whatever she might say to unfreeze him, now he felt like he could see the edge or outline of what a real vision of Hell might be. It was of two great and terrible armies within himself, opposed and facing each other, silent. There would be battle but no victor. Or never a battle—the armies would stay like that, motionless, looking across at each other, and seeing therein something so different and alien from themselves that they could not understand, could not hear each other’s speech as even words or read anything from what their face looked like, frozen like that, opposed and uncomprehending, for all human time. Two-hearted, a hypocrite to yourself either way.


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