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David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide

by D.D. Miller

D.D. Miller’s debut story collection will probably raise a few eyebrows with its shamelessly provocative title. And for the most part, these tales live up to that promised audaciousness, even as Miller runs a familiar gamut of young people dealing with hipster ennui and older men struggling with the challenges of early middle age. The subject matter is masculinity, complete with beer, pornography, and bad choices.

The title story is a great opener, with a narrator whose suicidal impulses seem to be the least of his preoccupations. He’s also obsessed with subways, live-cam porn, the works of David Foster Wallace, a girl named Brie, and graffiti. What impresses here is how effectively Miller layers these multiple tropes without derailing what is ultimately a touching tale about intimacy.
Other stories are far less successful. Several pieces – including “The Illusion of Flight” (about a couple in a café), “Seeing Your Own” (about doppelgängers), and the dull, baffling final story “The Ladies’ Room at the Valleyview Truck Stop” – read as if they originated out of a creative-writing exercise rather than genuine narrative compulsion.

Thankfully, Miller redeems himself in other parts of the collection. “Fool’s Paradise” creates an engrossing sexual dynamic among four people whiling away a sunny day on a beach. Set during the Toronto garbage strike of 2009, “Son of Son of Flying Pig” introduces a man struggling with being laid off and his obsession with his dead neighbour’s shoes. The collection’s strongest story is “The Wrong Numbers,” a moving tale about a man dealing with unwanted calls on his cellphone while navigating the drunken dynamics of his in-laws’ relationship with his childless wife. Here again, Miller shows a deft hand at balancing multiple thematic threads.

David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide is an uneven collection but one that will prove enjoyable enough for lovers of the short-story form.