‘Incarnations of Burned Children’ by David Foster Wallace

Just a couple of pages in length, but it feels like the molten product of some golden imaginative moment. Similar in subject matter, though very different in tone to Carver’s ‘A Small Good Thing’ – and even better. If I had to rescue just one story of all those represented here from the flames, it would probably be this one. It is emotionally devastating, articulating the unthinkable. Simply brilliant and terrifying all at the same time. It shows that the author, famous for his sprawl, could also work in miniature. Don’t read it if you’ve just had a baby. Otherwise this is my pick for the finest story I know. 

First published in Esquire, April 2009. Collected in Oblivion: Stories, Abacus, 2005 and now The David Foster Wallace Reader, Penguin, 2018. Read the story online here

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