Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, by David Foster Wallace

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on January 8, 2010

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace Wallace’s 2005 collection of essays is by no means new media, yet worthy of note this month, the half-birthday of DFW’s unfortunate demise.

Consider the Lobster, like all of Wallace’s prose, is hard work to read. These days, where drippy, thin works like Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight and Jodi Picoult’s entire repertoire are widely touted, the dense, highly-literate and complicated essays by Wallace have a shrinking audience. Advanced vocabulary, expansive footnotes and asides, and a scathing wit make up the bulk of his pieces that are not already steeped in literary and philosophical theory. If you do not have a familiarity with the works of Kafka and Dostoevsky, or find the politics of American English too convoluted to follow, three of Consider the Lobster‘s ten essays will be of little interest. They will just be no fun to read.

There is something for everyone in Consider the Lobster, though – if you’re willing to tackle it (and you should!). DFW has the ability to balance drastically opposite sentiments in his writing, to both admire and criticize, appreciate and deride, and he does so honestly. He convinces the reader that little in this world in black and white. His most scathing critique occurs in “Big Red Son,” his comments on the 1998 Adult Video News awards, yet he still acknowledges the influence of the most pervasive media industry in America. We follow liberal leaning DFW on the 2000 campaign junket with Republican John McCain and into the studio with far-right radio host John Ziegler, read his admiration of and utter disappointment in tennis star Tracy Austin, and end up realizing that if DFW seems to have a foot in each camp, well, so do we.

The Los Angeles Times Book Review recalls DFW: “There is no other writer…more incisive and hilarious, more ruthlessly tender, when it comes to documenting the perversities of modern American life.” “Ruthlessly tender” might be the most accurate way to describe this collection of essays that are humorous, of course, yet also enlightening and compassionate. No matter who you are, there is guaranteed to be at least 100 pages of this book that you will remember for a very long time.

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