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A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace

May 30, 2013

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This is a collection of seven of Wallace’s earlier essays (before Consider the Lobster), but they display the same breadth of knowledge and depth of insight. Here, Wallace covers such diverse topics as the effect of the Midwest’s weather on tennis played there, the relationship between television and fiction, post-structuralist fiction, and the films of David Lynch. I enjoyed the Lynch essay quite a bit—mostly because I’m a big Lynch fan and actually wrote a paper on Lost Highway, the film that is more-or-less the focus of Wallace’s meandering essay—but the two best essays here are what I like to think of as hyper-intelligent alien (Wallace) dropped into middle American ritual. I once heard him in an interview describe it as a big hovering eyeball or something similar, which is to say, basically, observational essays. In this case, Wallace’s topics are a Caribbean luxury cruise (“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”) and the Illinois state fair (“Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All”). In typical Wallace fashion, the essays exceed by far the page count one might expect for such pieces because a) he is such a good observer, able to find humor, insight or irony in almost any situation, and b) they wander far off the path and both become, in their own ways, discourses on American life. But they are never boring (sometimes a bit over my head, but not boring). And I would contend that Wallace’s two-page description of the Illinois State Jr. Baton-Twirling Finals in the state fair essay is worth the price of the entire book.

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