I think this is a truly great story.
I had read this story earlier this school year, and my thoughts on it have remained. I see this story as DFW struggling with the death of a former acquainted someone whom DFW thought had his shit together, and whose suicide seemed to make little sense to DFW. Also, I think DFW thought of the guy as a fraud when DFW knew him, and that this construction of self-discovery is how DFW sort of made sense of it.
Its probably the worst sort of intellectual practice to project my own experience onto an interpretation of another author's work, particulaly a dead author whom I cannot ask if I am correct, but in my own life, when I was 27, an old classmate of mine died under mysterious (not mentioned in the obit) circumstances (drug overdose, I believe, though I have never had any confirmation). It just so happened that this former class mate bullied me for many years, over three and a half, spanning grades 7-10, and when he died, I kind of had a bit of a time working through my feelings (I was happy he was dead, guilty about that happiness, and sad when I learned the man I hadn't seen in over ten years had a daughter), and I can see DFW working out something like that in this story, though it probably isn't there, and I am likely projecting.
To take the fraudulence a step further, this character is clearly a sociopath. In my other class, during the discussion there was disagreement on this, but a sociopath is technically someone who lacks empathy. Usually people use the word sociopath when they mean something more sinister. A sociopath can have sympathy, and morality, and lots of other complex personality traits to make up for the lack of empathy. I think this character is like that, and realizes how he hurts people, and having sympathy, rather than true empathy, and being self-reflective, I think he takes the only action open to someone who is broken and dangerous, but essentially good. I am reminded somewhat of Seymour Glass' suicide in the Salinger story "A good Day for Banana Fish," where an essentially good person has become monstrous and does the only good thing. Crazy shit,I know, but the story is pretty crazy.
I did not like this story as much as Good Old Neon, I thought it was less interesting over all. Though the writing, as I have found with all DFW I've read, was spectacular. The third paragraph about wet dreams might have been the best paragraph I've read this year with the best sentence. I had a fine time reading the story because of that, even though the story was little more than an embarrassing moment writ large, expanded to the extent of absurdity. I like the story as an exercise in that way, and the way it touches on the issues of adolescence and his family, and other minor sociological things shows me that there is a little more at stake, but it didn't have the kind of awe-inspiring depth that Good Old Neon had.
And I just remembered we aren't supposed to be comparing the stories, but honestly, I find that nearly impossible the way a weekly class is structured.
By itself, Forever Overhead is beautifully written, expanding the micro world of a jump off a diving board into a macro level experience. I think this is the essential brilliance and yet the essential lie of the story that in the end causes it to fail for me. Though I'll read it again only for the sentences, and that alone makes it a good story, its hard for me to take it too seriously based on what's at stake.
What You Pawn I Will Redeem:
This is the first story of the year where I had a real emotional reaction to the ending. There was a lot in the story that i might have not liked had the ending gone down the more predictable path of the narrator not getting the regalia. In a lot of ways, allegorical, symbolic, and sadly real, the story was drenched in the tragic politics of being Indian in America, but the ending seemed to be trying to move away from that intellectual content, or maybe to add to it a deeper non-political agenda, and for me the story was a stunning success. There was a train wreck element to it, you watch the narrator fritter away his opportunities, and blow his chances on booze and nonsense, a great deal of sympathy for the character is earned through his constant fuck-ups, and you just know he won't get the money, even while you root for him to get the money.
I am somewhat familiar with his work, having read "Lone ranger. . ." and I thought this story was an interesting change from those stories. While he deals with lying and mythologizing in those stories he is really surreal in this story on a level I didn't see (or don't remember) from that earlier collection. I suppose I am comparing again, but I can't help it. Either he is making a stylistic transition, or its been a longer amount of time than I remember since I read the "Lone ranger. . ." stories.