Simple or not, this is what Wallace has done. And if the terrain is bleak, the intensity of the struggle itself is life-affirming. "I stand here naked before you," a character says at the collection's end. "Judge me, you chilly cunt. You dyke, you bitch, cooze, cunt, slut, gash. Happy now? All borne out? Be happy. I don't care. I knew she could. I knew I loved. End of story." This is a tormented, heroic book.