David Foster Wallace, probably best known for his massive novel Infinite Jest, has also assembled a couple volumes of essays, this one and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Mostly journalistic pieces with the odd book review, Consider the Lobster tackles the AVN Awards ( the Oscars of the porn industry), 9/11 as seen from central Illinois, a polemic on English language usage dictionaries, a look at John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary1, a lobster festival in Maine, and a right-wing talk radio host.
Few of these make particularly compelling subjects, but the attraction here is Wallace’s style, convoluted and rich, an odd mix of formal and in-. His footnotes literally have footnotes. The radio piece, originally published in Harper’s, uses a complex system of boxed footnotes that point with arrows to the cited text. It made more sense in the magazine, where the boxes were color-coded. Here it’s just hard to follow. His digressive approach lets him seemingly talk about two or three aspects of a situation simultaneously3. This style is well suited to someone who will apparently follow an idea to the moon and back.
I like to read writers who are way smarter than I am, and Wallace easily qualifies.
1which manages to miss Karl Rove’s famous planted rumor about McCain’s fathering a Black child2
2One wonders what Rove would do with the known fact that Barack Obama has fathered two Black children.
3We can only read one sentence at a time, of course, so if you read a four paragraph footnote, then go back to the original text, you’ll have to re-read it to find the footnote’s context.4
4Granted, this isn’t four paragraphs, but see what I mean?