You know, it’s kind of weird that I’ve read a big bunch o’ David Foster Wallace’s short stories and non-fiction, but have never read his big fat novel. Keeping my streak alive on this score, I polished off David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster a while back.
This is a collection of essays similar to A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, but better. The earlier collection was wildly uneven, with really fascinating essays (like the titular one) mixed in with some very pedestrian writing about uninteresting topics. This time, the quality was a lot more consistent, and none of the pieces (with the possible exception of a piece about John Updike, about whom I care not at all) came off as filler.
Wallace’s schtick is taking on a topic from the side, with lots of insightful pondering. So a dispatch from the Adult Video News Awards becomes a meditation on pornography; an article about a lobster festival is an investigation into the ethics of eating lobster; a review of a book on English usage is a rambling discourse about the failures of descriptivism, sources of authority, and Wallace’s own geeked-up childhood.
When this works, when the observations are sharp and fresh, this approach makes for engrossing reading; when it fails and presents you with trite commonplaces masquerading as deep insight, it’s phenomenally irritating. Your reaction to this book will be determined almost entirely by how often you think Wallace is full of insight vs. full of shit. Personally, I felt that his 9/11 piece mostly missed the mark and the lobster essay was a bit obvious, but that the rest were fascinating. Your mileage is pretty much guaranteed to vary.
Definitely recommended for fans of Wallace; definitely not recommended for anyone irritated by cleverness and/or footnotes.