Tag Archive | Backbone

What I Read: Backbone

Thanks to the internet (and a slow shift at work), I just read David Foster Wallace’s short story, “Backbone,” on the New Yorker’s website. You should, too.

Title: “Backbone”

Author: David Foster Wallace

Completed?: Yes.

Spoiler-free Opinions: I hadn’t read anything by David Foster Wallace before, but had heard great things. “Backbone” is about a young boy whose goal was to be able to “press his lips to every square inch of his own body.” The short story takes the reader through his journey to do so while exploring his relation to the world and with his father, whose story (in less detail) is presented as well. The boy seems almost monk-like and other-worldly in his meditation and dedication to stretching and increasing his flexibility, and the impossibility of the task he has put before himself, combined with the desperate search of his father (the nature of which I will not spoil), gives the story an almost magical-realism feel, despite their feats and goals not actually requiring any sort of magic or fantasy. Reality, like the boy’s spine, is stretched and made more flexible. Wallace’s way with words is lovely and at times scientific, and the movement from the boy’s story to his father’s to the outside world artfully and thoughtfully done. I would certainly recommend it and plan to read more of his short stories. From what I hear, his nonfiction is also a good read.

Favorite (spoiler-free) Quotes:

“Dr. Kathy had reading glasses on a cord around her neck and a green button-up sweater that looked as if it were made entirely of pollen.”

His place in most people’s mental albums was provisional, with something like a dotted line around it—the image of someone saying something friendly over his shoulder as he heads for an exit.”

“Insights into or conceptions of his own physical “inaccessibility” to himself (as we are all of us self-inaccessible and can, for example, touch parts of one another in ways that we could not even dream of touching our own bodies) or of his complete determination, apparently, to pierce that veil of inaccessibility—to be, in some childish way, self-contained and -sufficient—these were beyond his conscious awareness. He was, after all, just a little boy.”


Stars: 4.5. The science-y/anatomy words can be a bit much at times, but this is a great story and you should read it. Right now. Do it.