If you’ve never wept and want to, have a child.
– David Foster Wallace in Oblivion
Though very short – less than three pages of a single, flowing paragraph – David Foster Wallace’s story, “Incarnations of Burned Children,” includes passages that are among the more terrifying pieces of literature I’ve ever read, more horrible to me than anything conjured by the masters of horror.
The excerpted quotation above is the next to last sentence of the story. The very last sentence – long, beautiful, majestic – is just pure DFW:
Break your heart inside and something will a child is the twangy song the Daddy hears again as if the radio’s lady was almost there with him looking down at what they’ve done, though hours later what the Daddy most won’t forgive is how badly he wanted a cigarette right then as they diapered the child as best they could in gauze and two crossed handtowels and the Daddy lifted him like a newborn with his skull in one palm and ran him out to the hot truck and burned custom rubber all the way to town and the clinic’s ER with the tenant’s door hanging open like that all day until the hinge gave but by then it was too late, when it wouldn’t stop and they couldn’t make it the child had learned to leave himself and watch the whole rest unfold from a point overhead, and whatever was lost never thenceforth mattered, and the child’s body expanded and walked about and drew pay and lived its life untenanted, a thing among things, its self’s soul so much vapor aloft, falling as rain and then rising, the sun up and down like a yoyo.
Oblivion also includes “Good Old Neon,” a story written in the first person and that chronicles the state of mind of the narrator so ashamed of and obsessed with his own “fraudulence” – of character, of motives, of sincerity – that he is finally driven to commit suicide as David Foster Wallace himself did seven years after the story was first published.