A collection of essays that interrogates questions such as: Do lobsters feel pain? Did Franz Kafka have a funny bone? What is John Updike's deal, anyway? And what happens when adult video starlets meet their fans in person?
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).