Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

I confess to only having read two of the seven essays in this book, and those only under duress from folks who insisted I try them as an alternative to Infinite Jest, which I abandoned earlier this summer. I am glad I read them, and I enjoyed them up to a point, though there's only so much DFW a person can take.

In the title essay, Wallace, at the invitation of his editors at Harpers, goes on a cruise. Could there be a better "fish out of water" story? Imagine Wallace, disheveled, cynical, alone, embarking on a cruise with thousands of cheery retirees. Just the setup is funny. And Wallace does it justice, managing to skewer the cruise industry and much of American society in the process, while seeming vulnerable and earnest as he does so.

Ticket to the Fair, about Wallace's visit to the Illinois State Fair, was good too, but I didn't like it as much as the other one. Maybe it's because Wallace, as a native of Illinois, knew a little of what he would find at the state fair. Indeed it was almost like he was expecting the sense of dread that eventually overcomes him, like it was inevitable. His observations were sadder and not as funny.

I finally realized who Wallace reminds me of and it's Nicholson Baker. My favorite Baker book, The Mezzanine, weighs in at a compact 142 pages. Is it because Howie's escalator ride only took five minutes, but Infinite Jest spans years? Baker did the whole footnote thing back in 1987, when The Mezzanine was first published; also the minute observations and the technical digressions. Now that I think of it, that's a far more readable book than Infinite Jest. I wish I had just re-read that.

(Book 23, 2013)


beckster said...

I really enjoy reading N.Baker, and I think his writing style is very unusual, yet readable. Did that make sense? I have tried to read DFW, but I just can't read him. He's too earnest, too depressed. I think he was obviously very talented, but I just can't do it. I also never finished War and Peace.

Post a Comment