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A Reverence for Untrendy Human Troubles

David Foster Wallace’s “Good People,” Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” and American Minimalist Narration

Robert C. Clark

Pages 397 - 412


David Foster Wallace is best known for writing what has in recent years been theorized as Maximalist, but he also produced several Minimalistic works that, perhaps surprisingly, reflect his admiration for Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver. Wallace’s view of Minimalism was rather complex, and based on his fiction, reading, essays, and statements in interviews, his perception of the tendency changed over time. While he in many ways mastered the techniques central to the mode, he did not ultimately embrace the model of the self-effacing, amoral narrator. Even in his most elliptical stories, the speaker maintains a firm, subjective presence. In “Good People,” Wallace’s protagonist Lane Dean, Jr., a character closely attuned to the speaker, embodies the tension between Wallace’s appreciation for the movement and his sense that it lacked ethical boldness, a characteristic he advocates for in his non-fiction. “Good People” includes a number of overt parallels to Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” a tale that is an exemplar of a style that Wallace seems to both admire and reject.


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