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Understanding David Foster Wallace

Marshall Boswell

A detailed look at a leader of modernism's third wave

In Understanding David Foster Wallace, Marshall Boswell examines the four major works of fiction Wallace has published thus far: the novels The Broom of the System and Infinite Jest and the story collections Girl with Curious Hair and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. In his readings of these works, Boswell affirms that Wallace, though still young, compels our attention not only for the singular excellence of his work but, perhaps more important, for his groundbreaking effort to chart a fruitful and affirmative new direction for the literary novel at a time of bleak prospects.

In addition to providing self-contained readings of each text, Boswell places Wallace within a trajectory of literary innovation that begins with James Joyce and continues through Wallace's most important postmodern forebears, John Barth and Thomas Pynchon. Although Wallace is sometimes labeled a postmodern writer, Boswell argues that he should be regarded as the nervous leader of some still unnamed—and perhaps unnameable—third wave of modernism. Boswell contends that in charting an innovative course for literary practice, Wallace does not seek merely to overturn postmodernism, nor simply to return to modernism. Instead he moves resolutely forward as his writing hoists the baggage of modernism and postmodernism heavily, but respectfully, on its back.

Marshall Boswell holds a Ph.D. from Emory University. He is the T. K. Young Professor of English Literature at Rhodes College in Memphis, where he teaches twentieth-century American literature and fiction writing. The author of John Updike's Rabbit Tetralogy: Mastered Irony in Motion and a collection of short stories, Trouble with Girls, Boswell is currently at work on a novel. He lives in Memphis.



book jacket for Understanding David Foster Wallace


5 x 7
242 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-517-3
cloth, $34.95s
Understanding Contemporary American Literature
Matthew J. Bruccoli, series editor


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