From pages 100-200, I’d say the dominant image I was left with was the suicide of Hal’s Father. It has been alluded to quite a few times, but is revealed in a conversation between Hal and Orin…and Orin apparently has never heard the official word on what happened.
And it definitely happened. In a suicide that is half Coen Brothers and half Popular Mechanics, the man had bored a hole in his microwave and the sealed it back up with aluminum foil before turning the microwave on. As the description says, you have what happens to a potato if you microwave it without poking holes in it, so you can imagine the mess with a human head.
The description–and you won’t be surprised to know that it goes on and on–reminded me of something out of John Irving…the early John Irving, like Garp-and-before John Irving. There’s just an unfolding grisliness to it, almost in a kind of post-shock irony that might be intended to show how broken we are. Or, just a perverse sense of humor.
Anyway, it wasn’t strictly gratuitous. We then learn that Hal–either as an expression of unbearable ambivalence or 90’s ennui or antipathy toward his father–feels nothing. He has been sent directly into grief counseling, which he literally cannot escape from until he feels something. He tries to read books about grieving to find a clue for what he can do to feel something (give the people at ETA credit, whether it is drug use or grieving, library usage is a surprising go-to move), but nothing works. The situation is finally resolved when he is advised to take the opposite approach and read books about therapy itself (and not grieving) and he figures how to construct a breakdown that convinces the therapist he has come to terms with the trauma and he is released to go back to…feeling nothing.
When you read the book you do wonder, from time to time, what specific point is trying to be made. I have tried to let the thing wash over me, just experience it, but I can’t help it. I don’t know that it is intended as social criticism–it doesn’t have to be–but clearly DFW has (let us say) a salty perspective on therapy. This is a good example of writing what you know. This specific incident would seem to be a look at the professionalization of therapy, to the point where the feelings of the person are secondary to the professional expectations of the therapist, based on his or her training.
Which brings me to a last point. DFW has been in the news recently because he was mentioned in the confirmation hearing of Neal Gorsuch, of all things. And from that came some chatter the DFW is some kind of neo-conservative touchpoint. Leaving aside the conclusion that these people have chosen the Century’s least-readable authors to be their touchpoints (Rand and DFW…Pynchon, you are next due), we have to wonder why. DFW doesn’t seem liberal or conservative to me and in fact seems non-political entirely. Of course, I’m not to the point where I know what the fuck it is about anyway, so maybe it is. I can see the therapy thing saying that therapy is more about the liberal-do-gooders than the patients, much like other “helping” professions, but it seems flimsy.
Anyway, you can google it there is some talk about Conservatives and DFW…apparently Antonin Scalia actually met him once. Under closer examination it appears that Gorsuch never read past “This is Water” which makes his reference just one step (literary-wise) above a Dr. Suess reference.
And on we go.