Although Consider the Lobster contains no fiction – it is a collection of literary essays and reportage pieces written for assorted magazines – the volume attests to a renewed sense of ambition on Mr. Wallace's part, and a new interest in writing shapely pieces that may meander but that meander meaningfully toward persuasive ends … Mr. Wallace is capable of writing about things like metaphysics and the politics of the English language with the same verve and irreverence he brings to matters like the pornography industry and the cooking of lobsters … This collection trains Mr. Wallace's acute eye not inward at the solipsistic terrain of people's minds, but outward at the world – at politicians, at writers, at ordinary and oddball individuals of every emotional stripe. Like his best fiction, it reminds the reader of both his copious literary gifts and his keen sense of the absurdities of contemporary life in America at the cusp of the millennium.
So vast is Wallace's intellectual energy and ambition that he always wants to do more than what anyone else can reasonably achieve in a magazine article – and he has some enviably indulgent editors. He wishes, as much in his nonfiction as in his fiction, ‘to antagonize,’ as he said in an interview in 1993, ‘the reader's sense that what she's experiencing as she reads is meditated through a human consciousness.’ Accordingly, Wallace appears as a character in his own reportage, and, though he may not like the comparison to a Great Male Narcissist, he reminds one most of the author of Armies of the Night as he strives for full self-disclosure … Certainly, few of his young peers have spoken as eloquently and feelingly as he has about the hard tasks of the moral imagination that contemporary American life imposes on them. Yet he often appears to belong too much to his own times – the endless postmodern present – to persuasively explain his quarrel with them.
Consider the Lobster offers an exhilarating short-cut to the mind of a writer for whom autocastration is a good reason to investigate 'adult entertainment', who swears once a year not to get angry and self-righteous about the misuse of the possessive apostrophe, or the serial comma, and who is happy to devote 3,000 words to Kafka's 'sense of humour' … This new collection demonstrates a contemporary American master working at the extreme edge of the radar, asking question after question about the mad, mad world in which he finds himself … Wallace's ferocious snootiness makes him a fearsome literary critic. There are not many American novelists at work today who would relish taking a swing at John Updike. But in his review of Toward the End of Time, Wallace not only bounds into the ring, but also cheerfully lands a vicious left hook on the writer he calls a GMN (Great Male Narcissist).
‘How clever!’ one can't help but exclaim, impressed by all the postmodern acrobatics. But then the disappointment sets in. After all, it's not enough just to be clever when the seriousness of Serious Literature is at stake. Don't you also have to hold yourself accountable to your own observations? Apparently not, unless Wallace really thinks the urgently important question is not one of the Important Questions but, in fact, why we're not asking the Important Questions. Which, let's face it, sounds like a secondary question at best … So the essays in Consider the Lobster ultimately ring hollow; that doesn't mean they aren't loads of fun … 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. And like the best of his essays, Consider the Lobster invites us to participate in a new and fascinating conversation.
If I had to give an alien one book about American life, it'd be A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Or it would've been, eight years ago. Now I'd hand over Consider the Lobster. They're both by David Foster Wallace … The essays in Fun and Lobster — what the author calls ‘experiential postcards’ — cover food, sports, politics, language. They're a great novel about American life, told in segments. Good writing graffitis its perceptions over the world, and it's impossible to get through a day without a Wallace line.
""Wallace’s dense style is a homeopathic antidote to our verbose information-overloaded age. In ‘Authority and American English Usage’ he gives an F to academic prose, calling it ‘[p]ompous . . . sesquipedalian, Heliogabaline . . . jargon-ridden, empty: resplendently dead.’ An English lit professor himself, Wallace is always lucid, and in both his fiction and nonfiction he evinces a heartfelt desire to engage your ethics and beliefs—when not sending you staggering to the dictionary—by laying out indefatigably researched (if sometimes contradictory) conclusions.
Wallace’s encyclopedic knowledge of porn seems a direct corollary to the ‘social costs of being an adolescent whose overriding passion is English usage’...Even as the adult Wallace pushes the frontiers of the written word, his self-deprecation rings sincere. Consider his final verdict, after 20 pages of pondering humanity’s hegemony over the food chain in Lobster: ‘There are limits to what even interested persons can ask of each other.’""
Chronicling a trip to the Adult Video News Awards in high new-journalism style, ‘Big Red Son’ becomes an occasion to discuss not just how sexuality gets packaged and sold in America, but also how most everything gets packaged and sold. It ends up as a more damning (and much funnier) portrait of the porn industry than a moral watchdog could ever hope to write. Few of Lobster's entries capture Wallace's humor as well. An attack on an already-forgotten John Updike novel, for instance, reads as more gratuitous than insightful. (Why don't more people question the ethics of novelists critiquing other novelists?) But the long setpieces demonstrate how carefully Wallace can weave forceful arguments between the digressions.
Another savory, hard-thinking, wildly imaginative collection of essays and observations from the artful Wallace … He addresses the exformative associations in Kafka, the ethics of American English usage, the state of the porn industry and gets windy tearing apart tennis champ Tracy Austin’s ‘insipid’ autobiography—but let the wind blow, for it is ever-refreshing.
Wallace might just be the smartest essayist writing today. His topics are various—this new collection treats porn, sports autobiographies and the vagaries of English usage, among others—his perspective always slightly askew and his observations on point. Wallace is also frustrating to read. This arises from a few habits that have elevated him to the level of both cause célèbre and enfant terrible in the world of letters … These tricks are adequately postmodern (a term Wallace is intelligent enough to question) to prove his cleverness. But a writer this gifted doesn't need such cleverness.