At the Maine Lobster Festival, David Foster Wallace wonders what the event itself and the
morality of inflicting probable pain on another being for our gustatory pleasure says
about us. This was a commission for sybaritic Gourmet magazine, where footnoted
social commentary was not exactly the expectation. Wallace is not afraid to stir things
up. While thoroughly enjoying his fact-based discussion of some hot button issues, I did
wonder how much the level of distaste Wallace shows for such mass tourist venues colored
his perspective on the justification for this one. This may be a case where having the
author read is a mistake, since his cool tones heighten an impression of superciliousness.
Next he offers September 11, 2001 unfolding before someone already experiencing both
alienation and community in middle America. Watching TV is the basis of most social interaction
where he lives; and the same neighbors who can't understand his refusal to own one welcome
him freely into their homes to watch. Including on September 11th, when watching with his
essentially innocent, 'good people' neighbors brings rueful realizations about the differences
between them -including that the America the attackers resented had more to do with himself
than with them.
Wallace uses the hook of its annual Academy Awards equivalent to discuss the modern porn
industry. There's dry humor and a critique whose effectiveness derives from giving those
in the industry -and it is always an industry- enough rope to hang themselves rather than
fire and brimstone preaching from afar. Here the author's cool reading tones are a decided
Finally he looks at sports biographies -how disappointing they are and what that might
say about both the average person's relationship to sports heroes and the heroes' relationships
to their own success.
Wallace's real specialty is thinking about things: past the obvious or surface
levels and encouraging the reader to do the same. Whether or not the subject interests
you or you agree with him, you will be engaged. The audio version is abridged to
only 4 of the 10 essays from the hardcover. While there's plenty to satisfy the reader
in this snack sized version, my one complaint is that I don't get an opportunity to be
engaged by the rest.