Friday, August 1, 2014
Give Consider the Lobster Some Whatchamallit, Consideration
The Footnote King really delivers with his kickass essay collection, Consider The Lobster. He knocks John Updike on his duff (supposedly one of Wallace’s big heroes), he posits that Kafka was really a misunderstood humorist, and that tech crews are the real brains behind political campaigns. He goes out of his way to be a likable agitprop. He succeeds. And it doesn’t hurt that he is a master craftsman of the potent sentence. It’s not all about pretty prose, he loads his lines with philosophical polemics. This ain’t no beach read.
I love his essay “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” because it’s so frustrating to be such a huge fan only to have a crappy book written about the ex-champ. His argument is really interesting and it reminds me of how disappointed George Plimpton was when he found out that Vladimir Nabokov was a big fat dud in person. Now, Wallace is fully aware that Tracy Austin, his childhood heroine, didn’t even pen her memoir, but rather had a ghostwriter do the dirty deed. Wallace himself admits that though he is a sucker for these sports stories, he usually tries to hide them under something “highbrow” when he’s at a bookstore’s checkout counter.
We all have curiosity about the rich and famous and sometimes we couple this up with a craving for something saucy, something that we know is really, nothing more than junkfood. Boy, does David Foster Wallace know how to pull us in. His opening essay, smartly titled “Big Red Son” is about Hollywood’s evil twin the Porn Industry. The characters are really characters is an understatement, but he doesn’t treat them in a pathetic way. You never get the feeling he is there, leering at the jugs of the porn stars. You can sense how important it is for him to see their humanity. He offers an objective tone, providing a fairly detailed analysis of the key players in the industry: camera men, production companies, journalists, and fans. Because he has such keen insight into what makes the various players tick— petty gripes they’ve had with each other and interests (beyond the screen) you believe his authorial voice.
What makes this collection so appealing is that it covers such a breadth of topics that you have to scratch your head and wonder how the hell this guy does it? You know he’s a meat-eater through and through, but he seems to, convincingly, plead the case for protecting the lobster from its vicious fate of being dumped into scalding hot pot. The lobster hangs on for dear life (by the claw) when he’s tossed in a pot. The lifelong loner is the type of animal (I use this word in its broadest sense) that hates, absolutely hates to be claw-to-claw with other crustaceans and that is how he spends his last moments before you point to him and choose him for your surf and turf dinner.
The sort of book review/romp on John Updike is classic, and it clues us into what D.F Wallace is all about. Wallace takes umbrage with the GMNs. The Great Male Narcissists. He includes Updike, Roth, and Mailer as the 3 horsemen of this enterprise. Wallace admits that he’s always been a big fat fan of Updike, but knows too that there’s a wee bit of misogyny going on between the covers. He’s not against the Updike obsession with penises and desire to roam free and be one’s own man, but that this is the overwhelming theme of pretty much everything the guy has ever written. Surely, a protagonist could be better-rounded. So maybe there’s a boatload of sentences that deserve lots of oohing and aahing, in the end, you want to smack some sense into his protagonists.
Love him, loath him. David Foster Wallace can write some stretchy sentences, but he's got lots of pop, and is always engaging.