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Home » Culture and Criticism

TN Read-Along #6: Consider the Lobster Discussion Thread

Submitted by on December 2, 2010 – 2:57 PM5 Comments

We covered quite a bit in the live chat last night — enjoy the Ralph Wiggum School of Segues "transitions" between topics! — but if you couldn't make it, or have come to the comments a bit later after finishing the book, we can continue the discussion here.

Overall, I found it an enjoyable read. A few of the pieces haven't benefited from the passage of time, the 9/11 piece in particular; in the immediate aftermath, I recall seeing a lot of pieces like that, the explication of everyday rituals or items in an attempt to re-sight the horizon. Reading them now…a recent episode of Extra Hot Great inducted the Buffy episode "The Body" into the EHG Canon, and someone (I think Joe R) mentioned that, while on the whole it's extremely powerful, there's a pan out to people going about their daily business, feeding a parking meter or whatever it is, that hit it a little too squarely, and that's how the bulk of 9/11 pieces by people not on-site land with me now. Not the fault of the authors, even, generally, but mostly that we've all lived with it for nearly a decade now.

That's probably the weakest piece, and it's not even "weak"; Wallace takes evident care and pride in his descriptions but doesn't let them get too precious. (You could argue that the footnoting, especially in the radio-host piece, is self-regarding and distracting, but I spent a few minutes imagining how else he could set up his particular digressive flow, and basically he's doing it the only way he, himself, can do it. That said, the boxes in the radio piece made it physically hard to follow.) Occasionally, re: the subject matter, it can feel somewhat trite, and I could point to several that repeated themselves or could have lost 5-10 pages, but when he nails a description, he nails it. The sequence in the McCain piece in which he describes the view out the bus window and the beaten-down, surreal quality of the landscape as the flora begin to look more southern is the best descriptive graf I've read in some time.

The McCain piece is my favorite; it's easily the longest, and yet I wanted it to go on and on. Wallace shifts between tones with ease but it doesn't feel contrived; it's perfectly paced. An excellent piece of road writing, and very interesting to read ten years on.

I'll let you discuss the Garner amongst yourselves, as I've read it several times already and would rather hear from you first. I'll also say that his piece on Updike is a sweet-and-sour little nugget of "exaaaactly, what he said" that is both compassionate and unstinting.

Good choice, readers. I liked this one. What did you think?

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5 Comments »

  • Kari says:

    Two things I wanted to say that don't appear to have been discussed last night:

    I really liked the John McCain piece, but it made me desperately sad that we didn't have a companion piece. I would have loved to know what DFW thought about the 2008 campaign. I have to admit that it's been a couple of months since I read this (I thought it would never actually get selected here so I just read it on my own, heh), but I remember feeling like, despite his maverick image, McCain was a lot more conservative about some things than I had known back in 2000. I also thought DFW handled the POW stuff very well.

    I almost threw up in the middle of the porn essay, so I had to skip to the next one.

  • AngieFM says:

    @Kari–I found myself wishing the exact same thing, trying to imagine what DFW would have made of the most recent election season. I really love how he makes his introspection relevant in this essay, the way he acknowledges McCain's appeal but is cynical enough to question certain things on the campaign trail.

  • Sandman says:

    Mr. McCain looks so pleased to be appearing before the 'Nation in that picture, doesn't he? "Sadie the Fire-Safety What?"

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I also wonder what he'd write about Obama, considering how hard RS has slammed Obama since he took office.

  • Heqit says:

    Re: the talk radio piece — I think it was originally published online, and the footnotes were text links to mini pop-up windows, which worked pretty well. I got the feeling that the dead-tree formatting was an attempt to re-create that immediacy. It wasn't entirely successful, but it may have been about as good as one could hope.

    Was sorry to miss the chat. The Garner essay is one of my favorite pieces of writing, EVER. The footnotes and sub-arguments are EXACTLY like the inside of my head.

    If the link above doesn't work, Host is at The Atlantic here:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/04/host/3812/

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