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Story Review: Incarnations of Burned Children by David Foster Wallace

Incarnations of Burned Children by David Foster Wallace

I had a hard time trying to finish this short story. Not because it was badly written or uninteresting. No, not at all. In fact, Incarnations of Burned Children was the exact opposite of a badly written story, and there lies my difficulty because the story was told in such a vivid and poignant way, I could not continue reading without having to take intermittent deep breaths in between sentences.

Incarnations of Burned Children is my first David Foster Wallace read and I should have known better by reading the title alone that I should have not read this on a Friday afternoon when I was on a high and looking forward to the weekend. The story begins with a father repairing a tenant’s door when he hears his child’s screams and his wife’s high voice in between. Any parent would do what that father did upon hearing that scream: instantly leave whatever he is doing and discover the cause of the commotion. Throughout the whole long and meandering paragraph that  makes up this story, I was carried by the Father’s stream of consciousness, listening to his thoughts and everything that goes on inside his head when he learned about the reason for the scream.

It was really jarring to read the disturbing imagery of the story. My heart constricted and was torn into pieces. This was a story that could not be taken lightly, not when the one reading is a mom of a very active toddler now nearing the terrible twos, as they say. Although told in the Father’s voice, I could easily identify with what this dad went through and the choices he had to make. In my head, I was screaming:”Bring the baby to the hospital! Call an ambulance! Don’t touch the baby! Wait for the medics!”

Despite the emotional jolt, it was interesting to read a man’s POV on instances like this. What goes on inside a man’s head when faced with such a painful situation? I, for one, certainly want to know.

After all that happened, I want to read a happy ending. I want life and healing and restoration. I want wholeness. My heart just cannot take anymore sadness and pain. Please, spare the child.

“If you’ve never wept and want to, have a child.”


My Rating: 4/5 stars.

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