‘Incarnations Of Burned Children’ by David Foster Wallace

Wallace, David Foster 2004

Incarnations Of Burned Children by David Foster Wallace, 2004

The magic trick:

Putting the reader right in the middle of the chaotic aftermath of a traumatic incident

There is that sensation that happens in a car crash where “your life passes before your eyes.” It’s cliché but true in my experience. Three seconds seem to expand into years. Then the shock sets in and you have no memory of much of anything.

Well, somehow, “Incarnations” picks up the narrative there in the grayed-out zone of foggy memory inhibited by shock. The story takes us – via a single rambling paragraph – through those moments in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident; into the mind of someone operating on instinct and realizing even amidst the calamity that this life offers us no sense of control.

It’s not often art takes you there. Certainly it’s an interesting place in which to put a story. And that’s quite a trick on Wallace’s part.

The selection:

When the Mommy returned he wasn’t sure whether to wrap the child in a towel or not but he wet the towel down and did, swaddled him tight and lifted his baby out of the sink and set him on the kitchen table’s edge to soothe him while the Mommy tried to check the feet’s soles with one hand waving around in the area of her mouth and uttering objectless words while the Daddy bent in and was face to face with the child on the table’s checkered edge repeating the fact that he was here and trying to calm the toddler’s cries but still the child breathlessly screamed, a high pure shining sound that could stop his heart and his bitty lips and gums now tinged with the light blue of a low flame the Daddy thought, screaming as if almost still under the tilted pot in pain.

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2 Comments on “‘Incarnations Of Burned Children’ by David Foster Wallace”

  1. The most horrific story I’ve read so far. It was that false sense of safety before the gut punch that did me in, the sense that I may never feel safe again.


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