three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
user_rating: 
0

And Other Essays

A-ConsiderTheLobsterIn these 10 essays published originally in the likes of Harper’s, Rolling Stone, Atlantic Monthly, and Gourmet, Wallace embarks on meandering but pointed journeys within different political, cultural, and literary spheres. He snipes at John Updike, explores a biography of Dostoevsky, sketches the "seamy underbelly" of American lexicography, and explains how to explain Kafka’s humor (the struggle to establish a self "results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from the horrific struggle"—but you knew that). Other journeys take readers to John McCain’s presidential campaign, a Las Vegas "adult" video awards ceremony, and, of course, a Maine lobster festival, where Wallace considers the moral dilemma of boiling alive nothing other than the subject of this intellectually demanding volume.
Little, Brown. 343 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0316156116

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"His savaging of John Updike’s Towards the End of Time is not only side-splittingly funny but—remarkably—filled with the same kind of fair-handed objectivity that he brings to his reflections of Kafka. … Brilliantly entertaining, Consider the Lobster proves once more why David Foster Wallace should be regarded as this generation’s best comic writer." J. Keirn-Swanson

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"There is no writer alive more incisive and hilarious, more ruthlessly tender, when it comes to documenting the perversities of modern American life. … For all his nimble phrasing and postmodern tomfoolery, he’s something of an innocent." Steve Almond

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Fair warning to those new to DFW: He tends to digress, his digressions have digressions, his footnotes—which are long and detailed—have (no kidding) themselves footnotes. Unlike his novels and ‘short’ stories, where the digressiveness gets book-tossingly annoying (I stopped on Page 352 of Infinite Jest’s 1,079 pages), the digressions in these essays feature a thinker on the trail of an answer, one who is willing to go wherever it takes him." Steven E. Alford

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The collection’s title essay, from Gourmet magazine, reads at times like an encyclopedia article about a form of life lower than human but mighty interesting to contemplate, at times like a cookbook entry minus the recipes, and at times like a treatise on ethics. Always it is something that only Wallace would have written.’" Steve Weinberg

San Diego Union-Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"Following Wallace into and out of variously self-deprecating, snarky, purely academic, mostly academic, anti-academic, blindside-you-with-a-killer-line alleys, alcoves and byways has the tang of Today: It’s like making your way through an Internet-posted article booby-trapped with links to other, related articles. … In doing so he risks coming across as, frankly, a smartass, a self-referential showoff brandishing his Mensa-plus-plus IQ like a light-saber." Arthur Salm

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"One suspects that Wallace suspects that a special kind of torture would be to have an idea and then be forced to communicate it to the reader honestly and in a straight line. … To his credit, Wallace doesn’t demand we put faith in his facts; he doesn’t even demand we stop eating lobster. He asks of us something more difficult—that we think about our actions." Brendan Wolfe

Hartford Courant 2 of 5 Stars
"There’s some good stuff: the McCain back story, Bush campaign dirty tricks, and an incident that leaves Wallace examining his own conscience. But it takes forever to find the heart of this piece." Kit Reed

Critical Summary

It’s a well-accepted proposition that Wallace, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant recipient, is one of the most brilliant essayists alive. But it’s another matter altogether whether his work—at once luminous, provocative, digressive, and frustrating—finds the audience it deserves. Like Infinite Jest (1996) and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997), this collection showcases Wallace’s love of language, emotional IQ, and curiosity about the world (and the starlets who populate it). His trademark footnotes, essays in themselves, rarely fail to entertain—if you can follow them. But a few critics ask whether this collection exhibits more high jinks than actual intellectual insight; the arrows and boxed comments in the essay "Host," for example, may just obscure a Very Important Point. But that may be the point—to get you thinking about much more than the lobster.