Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men cover.jpg
First Edition hardcover
AuthorDavid Foster Wallace
Cover artistJohn Fulbrook III
CountryUnited States
GenreShort story
PublisherLittle, Brown and Company
Publication date
May 28, 1999
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages288 pp
813/.54 21
LC ClassPS3573.A425635 B65 1999

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a critically acclaimed short story collection by the late American writer David Foster Wallace, first published in 1999 by Little, Brown. According to the papers in the David Foster Wallace Archive at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin,[1] the book has an estimated net sales of 17,500 hardcover copies during the first year of its publication, making it a literary fiction bestseller.

Overall Theme & Analysis[edit]

The 23 metafictional pieces in the collection are "difficult to categorise, roaming wilfully across the boundaries of genres and inventing new ones", which one story ("Octet") appears to "self-mockingly acknowledge".[2]

Four of the stories are titled "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" and consist of numbered sections of varying length presented as transcripts of interviews with male subjects. The interviewer's questions are omitted from the transcripts, rendered merely as "Q". The collection is characterized by dark humor, alienation and irony.

As its title suggests, the book critiques aspects of modern masculinity and male chauvinism. "The 'hideous men' in Wallace's short stories are monstrous, parodic versions of Updikean characters, scrutinized with the eye of a pathologist ... Their sin is an implacable, and peculiarly American, strain of egoism."[3]

In light of revelations regarding Wallace’s abusive behavior toward Mary Karr,[4] some scholars have questioned the motives of Wallace’s stories, particularly in the collection which prominently featured misogynistic male characters.

Amy Hungerford, a Professor of English at Yale University, most notably in the “On Not Reading DFW” chapter of her book Making Literature Now,[5] posed the same question for the collection and whether we can separate the art from the artist. She concluded in the negative and argued that readers and academics should stop reading and teaching Wallace's work.

Clare Hayes-Brady, a leading female Wallace scholar, responded to Hungerford’s assertion in an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books by emphasizing that it is the duty of a critic or scholar to engage with problematic authors and examine them closely for what they bring to the table rather than dismissing them outright.[6]

In recent times, Wallace’s work, and this collection in particular, has attracted the attention of scholars and academics, with some arguing that although Wallace’s behavior is unforgivable. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men can be a source of study for possible explanation on the misogynistic traits and behavior of the male gender.[7]

Critical Reception[edit]

The collection was selected by The New York Times as one of the notable books of the year 1999.[8]

In 1997 Wallace was awarded the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction by the editors of The Paris Review for "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men #6",[9] which had appeared in the magazine and appears as "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men #20" in the collection.[10]

The collection is one of acclaimed writer Zadie Smith’s favorite books.[11] Smith also wrote an appreciation of both the collection and David Foster Wallace titled “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men: The Difficult Gifts of David Foster Wallace”. The piece was included in her 2009 essay collection Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays.[12]

The British writer and literary critic for The Guardian, Chris Power, in a piece on Wallace’s contribution to the short story, writes, "His second collection, for example, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (1999), is a brilliant book that is very difficult to enjoy."[13]

Writer and book critic Andrew Ervin writing in the San Francisco Chronicle was of the opinion that the collection "stands as Wallace's most compelling, brilliant and complete book."[14]

Performances and adaptations[edit]

The book has been adapted numerous times for stage and screen.

In August 2000, 12 of the "Interviews" were adapted into a stage play (Hideous Men) by Dylan McCullough, marking the first theatrical adaptation of any of Wallace's works.[15] McCullough directed the premiere at the New York International Fringe Festival.[16]

John Krasinski adapted and directed a 2009 film version of the "Brief Interviews" stories.[17] Julianne Nicholson plays Sara Quinn, the interviewer unnamed in the stories.[18]

Also in 2009, Hachette Audio released an unabridged audiobook production of the book read by an ensemble cast similar to that of Krasinski's film, including Krasinski, Will Arnett, Bobby Cannavale, Chris Messina, Corey Stoll, Will Forte, and the author.[19]

In August 2012, British artists Andy Holden and David Raymond Conroy presented a stage adaptation of the book at the ICA, London,[20] which later toured to Arnolfini, Bristol.[21] The production adapted four of the interviews and one short story using a variety of multimedia techniques, and contained new music by the Grubby Mitts.

A stage production adapting 21 of the interviews and stories, titled "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men", was directed by David McGuff for Yellow Lab Productions. The production ran three nights, August 28–30, 2014, at the Hill Country Arts Foundation's Point Theater on the Elizabeth Huth Coates indoor stage.[22]

List and summary of stories[edit]

  • "A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life" - The lack of sincerity between individuals in a "postindustrial" society
  • "Death Is Not the End" - An award-winning poet lounges by a pool
  • "Forever Overhead" - A boy attempts to conquer the diving tank of a public pool on his thirteenth birthday
  • "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" [#14, #15, #11, #3, #30, #31, #36]
  • "Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XI)" - A dream (or nightmare) of being a blind person
  • "The Depressed Person" - The increasingly solipsistic narration of a severely depressed individual
  • "The Devil Is a Busy Man" - Our inability to accept what is freely given
  • "Think" - A man facing temptation has what may or may not be an epiphany
  • "Signifying Nothing" - A son’s sudden recollection of a lost childhood memory leads to estrangement and reconciliation
  • "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" [#40, #42, #2, #48, #51, #19, #46]
  • "Datum Centurio" - Dictionary entry from almost 100 years in the future
  • "Octet" - Pop quiz with a post-post-modern metafictional spin
  • "Adult World (I)" - First half of a two-parter. A wife is concerned her lovemaking is hurting her husband’s penis
  • "Adult World (II)" - The second half told entirely through schematic outlines and notes
  • "The Devil Is a Busy Man" - The futility of attempting sincere good deeds
  • "Church Not Made with Hands" - Poetically abstract meditation on art, tragedy and faith
  • "Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (VI)" - Short transcript of a divorcing couple contemplating flipping a coin for the custody of their child
  • "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" [#59, #72, #28]
  • "Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko" - A retelling of Tristan and Isolde in futuristic-classical language and setting
  • "On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright's Father Begs a Boon" - A dying father’s confession of his long-concealed lifelong hatred for his son
  • "Suicide as a Sort of Present" - A mother’s insecurities have tragic consequence for her son
  • "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" [#20] - The Granola Cruncher
  • "Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XXIV)" - Hair-cutting and facial mimetic in a cramped kitchen


The book has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Polish, Turkish, Portuguese, Czech, Finnish, Greek, German, Russian, Dutch, Serbian, French, Croatian and Hebrew.[23]


  1. ^ Harry Ransom Center (9 March 2010). "David Foster Wallace Archive". University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  2. ^ Stephanie Merritt (28 January 2001). "The good, the bad... Review:Brief interviews with hideous men". Guardian. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  3. ^ Adam Goodheart (20 June 1999). "Review: Brief interviews with hideous men". New York Times. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  4. ^ K.W. Colyard (8 May 2018). "Mary Karr has Always Said David Foster Wallace Abused Her..." Bustle. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  5. ^ Making Literature Now. Stanford University Press. OCLC 1198931290.
  6. ^ Steve Paulson (10 September 2018). "David Foster Wallace in the #MeToo Era". LA Review of Books. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  7. ^ Lauren Ray (Fall 2020). "Excusable Versus Explainable Misogyny in David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" (PDF). Thesis University of North Carolina. Retrieved 24 March 2021.
  8. ^ Archive (5 December 1999). "Notable Books of the Year". New York Times. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  9. ^ Editorial Paris Review (2021). "Paris Review Prizes". Paris Review. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  10. ^ Rachel Haley Himmelheber (13 October 2014). ""I Believed She Could Save Me": Rape Culture in David Foster Wallace's "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men #20"". Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 55 (5): 522–535. doi:10.1080/00111619.2013.829798. S2CID 161904004. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  11. ^ Radical Reads (14 January 2019). "Zadie Smith's Bookshelf". Radical Reads Writers. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  12. ^ Ella Taylor (15 November 2009). "Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith". LA Times. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  13. ^ Chris Power (25 May 2015). "A brief survey of the short story: David Foster Wallace". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  14. ^ Andrew Ervin (13 June 2004). "Wallace's all-over-the-map approach pays off". SF Chronicle. Archived from the original on 9 August 2007. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  15. ^ Christine Ehren (16 August 2000). "Hideous Men". Fringe Watch. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  16. ^ Theatre Mania (16 August 2000). "Hideous Men". Theater Mania. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  17. ^ IMDB (2009). "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men". IMDB. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  18. ^ Lane Brown (3 September 2009). "Vulture Premieres the Poster for John Krasinski's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  19. ^ Brief interviews with hideous men. WorldCat. OCLC 318877943.
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-01-05. Retrieved 2015-01-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men".
  22. ^ David McGuff (22 August 2014). "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men - A Yellow Lab Production". Facebook Event. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  23. ^ Good Reads. "Editions of Brief Interviews". Good Reads. Retrieved 27 May 2021.

External links[edit]