David Foster Wallace

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What is David Foster Wallace's short story "Good Old Neon" about?

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“Good Old Neon” by David Foster Wallace talks about a fraudulent, suicidal man called Neal.

David Foster Wallace’s short story is about a man named Neal who’s in psychoanalysis. Neal is the narrator. He's consumed by how fake he is and spends a lot of time chatting with his analyst, Dr. Gustafson (Dr. G.), about his level of dishonesty. Even with Dr. G., Neal can’t seem to be truthful. Neal admits to “jerking him around” and “playing with him the way a cat does with a hurt bird.” If the story seems meandering or hard to follow, that’s because it is. Neal, in keeping with his tedious personae, goes off in several directions. He remembers lying as a four-year-old about breaking a bowl. Later, he discusses an episode from the famous TV show Cheers.

The story has a playful and puzzle-like structure, which links it to the literary movement, postmodernism. Like other postmodern works, Wallace’s short story emphasizes an individual’s inner thoughts and emotions and questions objective reality and the clarity of language. As Neal says, “Words and chronological time create all these total misunderstandings of what’s really going on at the most basic level.”

The appearance of Wallace at the end reinforces the playful, subversive postmodern elements of the story as it spotlights the fact that this is a story written by Wallace. With Wallace’s presence, the reader has to think about how what they have just read is a piece of fiction made up by David Foster Wallace.

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