Jim's Reviews > Consider the Lobster and Other Essays

Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace
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Apr 12, 12

bookshelves: essays
Read from April 05 to 11, 2012

I have just finished reading David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. Actually, I finished it several days ago, but it has taken some time to sink in. Wallace was a brilliant writer who had a problem with depression, which caused him to end his life at age forty-six.

Knowing something of his life, I read his essays with a certain hindsight. I was particularly taken aback by the title essay, where he talks about the cruelty involved in boiling lobsters. He starts slowly by describing a visit to the Maine Lobster Festival, then begins to talk about how the crustaceans are prepared:
So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the US: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is the whole thing just a matter of personal choice?
He continues:
The basic scenario is that we come in from the store and make our little preparations like getting the kettle filled and boiling, and then we lift the lobsters out of the bag or whatever retail container they came home in ... whereupon some uncomfortable things start to happen. However stuporous a lobster is from the trip home, for instance, it tends to come alarmingly to life when placed in boiling water. If you’re tilting it from a container into the steaming kettle, the lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container’s sides or even to hook its claws over the kettle’s rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof. And worse is when the lobster’s fully immersed. Even if you cover the kettle and and turn away, you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off. Or the creature’s claws scraping the sides of the kettle as it thrashes around.
That sounds pretty ghastly to me, along with some other details that Wallace provides in his revulsion of man’s inhumanity toward the lobster.

Lest you think that Consider the Lobster is merely a PETA tract, the other essays cover a broad spectrum, ranging from a porno film producer convention in Las Vegas to the works of Kafka and Dostoyevsky to American English to traveling with Senator John McCain on the “Straight Talk Express” bus during the U.S. Presidential Election of 2000.

In every case, Wallace is brilliantly penetrating in his colloquial, acronym-larded English. While discussing the career of John Updike, he refers to the horrors of the Me Generation: “anomie and solipsism and a peculiar American loneliness: the prospect of dying without even once having loved something more than yourself.”

With Wallace, one is never far from a sort of emotional nakedness that verges on the uncomfortable if it were not for the fact that it is sincere to the nth degree. Perhaps that’s why he’s not with us any more.
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