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the Complete Review
the complete review - biographical

The Very Last Interview

David Shields

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To purchase The Very Last Interview

Title: The Very Last Interview
Author: David Shields
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2022
Length: 154 pages
Availability: The Very Last Interview - US
The Very Last Interview - UK
The Very Last Interview - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: New York Review Books
  • The Very Last Interview was made into a film, directed by Nick Toti (2020)

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Our Assessment:

B : clever and amusing personal-exposé variation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 8/5/2022 Deborah Solomon
The Spectator . 14/5/2022 Duncan Fallowell

  From the Reviews:
  • "Shields maintains a playful and absurdist tone that pokes fun at the conventional Q. and A., a staple of journalism that gives way here to the Q. minus the A. (...) At first it seems as if Shields intends his book to be an indictment of the media. (...) But what if Shields made up the questions he supposedly culled from past interviews ? As you read on, you become more convinced of that possibility. (...) Shields wants to blur artistic boundaries, a noble postmodernist pursuit, but The Very Last Interview succeeds only in blurring his point. Despite the broad cultural exploration promised in the jacket copy, Shields has produced a narrow, nihilistic investigation into the vicissitudes of his own career." - Deborah Solomon, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The idea is that the questions put to him are just as revealing as his responses. This is a gimmick, but not merely that. To map how others interrogate us is an original idea. (...) (W)hen one comes to the lists of questions themselves, one finds -- with surprise and delight -- a playful cabaret, quite at odds with these dark, pretentious quotations. (...) Broadly we can see that Shields has become less of a writer and more of a player of linguistic games. He is a devotee of those old mantras: the medium is the message, nothing is real/everything is real. He stammered as a boy, and his approach to authorship is still governed by ambiguity, deconstruction and obfuscation as routes to revelation" - Duncan Fallowell, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The concept of The Very Last Interview is certainly clever: it is presented (practically) entirely in the form of questions, the questions author David Shields has been asked over the years in the many interviews he's given -- but without his responses.
       As the jacket-flap copy explains, David Shields gathered all the interviews he had ever given and collected the 2700-odd questions he'd been asked: "which he then condensed and collated to form twenty-two chapters", with Shields: "rewriting and editing and remixing the questions and finding a through-line".
       In a Q & A about the collection, Shields explains in a bit more detail:

So I gathered all 2,700 questions, which I culled and curated down to 1,700, and I poured these questions into silos or rubrics or chapters.

So, too, I hugely rewrote and reconceived and remixed and reinvented the questions. I barely remember how many if any are based on the original questions and how many are my own inventions.
       On the one hand, it's disappointing that he 'rewrote' the questions to such an apparently extreme extent (hugely !), making The Very Last Interview closer to creative fiction than documentary non-fiction. On the other hand, in rewriting and reshaping the material, the author makes it entirely his own, making The Very Last Interview possibly a better reflection of the author and how he wants to be seen. In autobiographical writing -- which this of course is -- it's generally better to throw out any claims and pretenses of objectivity, and Shields certainly does that here. (Of course, one might wish for him to be more upfront and explicit about that in the book itself, too.)
       The book is divided into twenty-two chapters, each focused on a different subject, some more personal -- 'Childhood', 'School', 'Paternity' -- and others, at least in part, more abstract and general -- 'Truth', 'Art', etc. Of course, each relates to Shields -- his opinions and experiences.
       A significant embellishment, something not found in the interviews, is that Shields adds an epigraph to each chapter. So, for example, 'Capitalism' opens with the John Maynard Keynes-quote: "Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone". The epigraphs are a somewhat odd addition, though arguably providing some guidance as to how Shields approaches the different subjects each chapter then focuses on. Disappointingly, the epigraphs are not in the form of questions.
       The Very Last Interview does make for a sort of memoir, as Shields goes over both his life and work, and even those largely unfamiliar with either (such as this reviewer) can form something of a picture of him. From his stammer to the evolution of his writing -- some novels, early on, and then a range of non-fiction --, his teaching and a recently failed relationship, the outlines, and many of the details, are covered.
       What's interesting about The Very Last Interview is, of course, that Shields himself ostensibly never has his say here: all that is presented are the questions he is asked. Sometimes the sequence does more than fill in the (response-)blanks:
How many agents have you had ?

Is that a lot ?

Seven agents but only one wife ? Interesting.

Ex-wife ? I see.

Recently ? Sorry to hear that.
       Many questions naturally are, in various ways, leading, often including other information that allows the reader to piece together the larger life (and Shields does present sequences of questions like above, that help fill in some of the gaps).
       In the aforementioned interview, Shields notes that when he looked over all those interviews: "the questions intrigued me: the passive-aggression of the questions", and he certainly brings that to the fore here. Indeed, much of The Very Last Interview is a very amusing look at interviewers at work (and as pieces of work ...), and how they interact with their subjects, from the entertaining opening offerings of interview-beginnings -- "Is this thing on ?" -- to the quite actively aggressive: "Is it all right with you if I ask the questions ?" (Shields drops more than that one hint that his being-interviewed style tends towards taking over the conversation: at another point we find the plaintive: "Can I ask a question ?") Other favorites: "Will you excuse me ? I have to take this"; the full-circle: "You're asking what I want to get out of this interview ?" and the many question where the back and forth has clearly gone at least slightly off the rails, the interviewer left to flailing: "Is reality really real, I guess I'm asking ?"
       One does have to kind of admire the truly demanding interviewers who ask for favors or pose questions such as: "Could you please name eleven prominent, contemporary writers whose work you vehemently dislike ?" and part of the appeal of The Very Last Interview is the probing specificity of the questions. One is used to the mealy-mouthed evasiveness of responses to interview-questions -- and surely Shields chickened out of actually naming eleven writers here -- but The Very Last Interview truly highlights this: what could be more evasive than not providing any of the answers. (Admittedly, quite a few of the questions are, in fact, answered (and other personal information is conveyed), in other questions.)
       Shields turns the table on his interlocutors here, reässerting control over these conversations and what he revealed in them. He is not the passive interviewee here, but rather reshapes the interviewers' words into a new and different shape. It is a personal document, a reflection of his self that he has shaped (to the extent that he was willing to go so far as to even rewrite the original questions, practically completely erasing the original questioners) -- a creative variation on the memoir. It is a very clever turnabout: we only have Shields' word for it, as it were -- the picture of the man that is presented here -- and yet it's constructed entirely without his words. (Of course, Shields spoiled that some by rewriting the questions -- perhaps the most revealing thing about the entire enterprise .....)
       The Very Last Interview is entertaining and good fun, a clever little exercise

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 June 2022

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The Very Last Interview: Reviews: The Very Last Interview - the movie: David Shields: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American writer David Shields was born in 1956.

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© 2022 the complete review

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