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The jester of US fiction

David Foster Wallace's reputation is as spectacular as his fiction is execrable. And yet, as an essayist, he could be one of America's leading writers

By Jonathon Keats   August 2004

Critical acclaim as ecstatic as the patter of a carnival barker clutters the covers of Oblivion, American author David Foster Wallace’s latest story collection. “A visionary,” gushes Zadie Smith, while the TLS anoints the 42-year-old wunderkind “the most significant writer of his generation.” Prize committees have agreed. Wallace’s CV incorporates a MacArthur fellowship, the Lannan award for fiction, the Paris Review’s Aga Khan and John Train prizes, and an O Henry award. His reputation is spectacular. His fiction, however, is execrable.

One cannot but be dazzled by the range of ways in which Wallace mangles his native tongue. His plots…

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