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Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays


Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays

David Foster Wallace's latest offering is a smorgasbord of
expository essays on seemingly randomly tied-together subject
matters with little or no connection, aside from the fact that
Wallace wrote them, either for previous publication elsewhere
(Rolling Stone, Gourmet) or for possible publication
in a future collection such as this one. The essays vary in both
length and strength, and while some sections exemplify Wallace's
signature razor-sharp intellect and knack for digging down deep in
order to answer probing philosophical questions, others just seem
to ramble on to the point of tedium. There is a point at which even
the best of writers are in need of editing, and in many of these
essays a bit more slashing, cutting and honing in on the point
might have proven beneficial. Nonetheless, CONSIDER THE LOBSTER
showcases Wallace's talent for weighing facts with opinions and
reporting it like he sees it, giving readers cause to pause --- and
think --- about everything from life on the road of a national
political campaign to how lobsters might feel about being boiled
alive before being eaten.

In "Up, Simba" and "Consider the Lobster," Wallace uses his
credentials from Rolling Stone and Gourmet,
respectively, to wax on about the behind-the-scenes goings on of
two celebrated public events, mainly the 2000 GOP race and the
Maine Lobster Festival. "Up, Simba" is a 78-page rundown of the
day-in and day-out of John McCain's campaign from February 7th
though the 13th, as seen through the eyes of a member of McCain's
traveling press corps. Dispelling all illusions of grandeur,
Wallace drones on about how un-glamorous it all is, from the
nightmarish bleary-eyed hours the press keeps to the inequity of
privileges bestowed upon the higher (read: "more respected and
high-brow") and lower (read: "piddly publications, Rolling
being one of them) members of the corps. Throughout all
the description (possibly too much), he manages to throw in
a question or two about "what terms like 'service' and 'sacrifice'
and 'honor' might really refer to, like whether the words actually
stand for something," and this line of questioning --- in
relation not only to John McCain's campaign but to politics as a
whole --- is a worthwhile topic to ponder, if only the reader
didn't have to wade through 78 pages to do it.

"Consider the Lobster" begins as a crustacean's eye view of the
touted Maine Lobster Festival and ends as a commentary on lobster
rights, for the likes of which PETA would be proud. Again, Wallace
dedicates the first few pages to describing the chaotic atmosphere
of the festival, but then skips right to the point of his essay. He
argues on behalf of lobsters everywhere that they do, in fact, feel
pain after being thrust into boiling water, and furthermore we (the
eaters of these critters) should think twice about what actually
happens after we throw them into the pot. At the conclusion of the
essay, the reader, who previously might have enjoyed eating such
delicacies as lobster, veal or lamb, is faced with a slightly
amusing yet quite legitimate conundrum: "Do you think much about
the (possible) moral status and (probable) suffering of the animals
involved? If you do, what ethical convictions have you worked out
that permit you not just to eat but to savor and enjoy flesh-based
viands (since of course refined enjoyment, rather than mere
ingestion, is the whole point of gastronomy)?"

"The View from Mrs. Thompson's" deserves mention both for its
subject matter and for its presentation --- standing out as one of
the best packages in the collection. In just a few short pages,
Wallace explains his experience on September 11th in such a way so
as to shed light on how the event was perceived in small town
Middle America (specifically, where he lived in Bloomington,
Illinois, where the pressure to display flags on lawns was
certainly felt) in comparison to how it was perceived in Washington
and New York. This is an interesting commentary with contemporary
relevance that will certainly have readers confirming or
re-thinking their opinions about what happened on 9/11 as well as
what's going on in the world today.

The rest of the collection consists of seven other essays, ranging
from book reviews on Kafka and Dostoyevsky, to another
behind-the-scenes look at an adult porn convention, to an extremely
long-winded examination of "the seamy underbelly of US
lexicography." (gasp!) Admittedly, Wallace's tendency to drone on
in some of these selections is frustrating, and his extensive usage
of footnotes is downright maddening (and often unnecessary)
throughout the entire book. There is no doubt that Wallace has
earned his reputation as a "writer of virtuosic talents" (New
York Times
), but it is this reviewer's assertion that this
anthology, while sometimes illuminating and often entertaining, is
not his finest.


Reviewed by Alexis Burling on December 28, 2010

Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays
by David Foster Wallace

  • Publication Date: July 2, 2007
  • Genres: Essays
  • Paperback: 343 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316013323
  • ISBN-13: 9780316013321