A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again [Review]

Usually, after reading a book, one of two things are remembered: A single image, or a collective image.

Examples:

  • The Lord of The Flies: Piggy and the Conch
  • 1984: Big Brother
  • The Scarlet Letter: The scarlet letter (duh, also not much else is memorable)
  • Twilight: ANGST ANGST ANGST
  • The Great Gatsby: The Green Light
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Piano and Motherhood

So as you can see, most books have that central image that acts somewhat like a key to the entire narration; a central focus point which seems to capture the entirety of the message. They are an anchor for remembering the book in the future, and a successful key unlocks a new world in the reader’s mind.

A Supposedly Fun Thing doesn’t have that.

Instead, it is as if every single detail that David Foster Wallace writes about comes to life, and not a single detail is any less memorable than the other. And every single detail is just crucial to the entire piece, providing this excellent overarching idea.

Welcome to Wallace’s world.

David Foster Wallace wrote this piece, an essay, not a book, after being sent by Harper’s Magazine (a personal favorite, besides the New Yorker btw) on a 7 Night Cruise (7NC, as he so lovingly calls it) fully paid for. This comes after being sent to a lobster festival by Gourmet Magazine, resulting in him not writing a piece about the glorious tradition of eating lobster, but instead, spouting out this deeply metaphorical piece about “what does a lobster feel when being eaten?” So of course, the natural thing to do, is for more magazines to send him to write more. He actually makes several pointed remarks at this, starting from the second page, of the minds at Harper’s Magazine in sending him to do this.

What comes out of that 7 Night (and 6.5 days, he hurries to add) experience is a piece longer than the entire magazine, although simply substituting his article would have made mighty fine reading nonetheless.

Enough Harping about Wallace, let’s cut to the fun things. (see what i did there ahahahahahahaha)

There is no real plot or purpose to the book, or as it would seem. His writing style completely obfuscates clear and concise reading, with perhaps some of the most inventive use of foot notes possible. 137 little postscripts, attached to all kinds of ideas, even to other footnotes, mark up the text, and contain some of the funniest and most original things possible. Wallace writes in this rambling style that reminds me of a completely deadpan comedian, standing on stage just going on and on about the most mundane but still getting the audience to crack up every time he opens his mouth. He possesses that kind of wit and seclusion in his voice that makes me ache to have met him while he was alive, you know, that reservedness that you might observe but with that twinkle in his eyes as you realize that he sees so much more than the world we observe.

His first chapter is nothing but some 1000 words describing what he literally saw, each beginning with “I have seen…” or “I have heard …”, which usually serves for completely sleep-inducing reading but in his crazed eyes, transforms the mundane into Wonderland. And perhaps that was his key through the entire piece; his ability to describe a moment so perfectly that it transcends the moment and becomes something of a visionary quality. His quirky comparisons (the wait for the ship: “[the] unwitting echo of the Auschwitz-embarkation scene in Schindler’s List” (270)] and his keen eye (he spends four sentences describing the hat of a random teenager) make up so well this voice you just want him to blabber on about life, about the scenes at an airport, about the comparisons between Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss, just anything to keep hearing his melodious, monotonous voice exploring life.

At the core of the piece, after you strip away all the humor and the satire and the ridiculously good writing, is this: What are we really doing when we say that we need to “have fun”? Are we fooling ourselves into “getting away from it all” by trapping ourselves not into something that is good, but instead, an illusion of what we should desire.

I guess that an interesting analogy for us high school students is what we consider summer to be: During the long and tiring school year, many of us await this magical time, counting down the days or hours till the blessed release from school. But what do we actually do during summer? Do we essentially end up with too much freedom, or do we end up deluding ourselves into thinking “I should deserve all the fun right now”?

From Wallace himself, at the crucial central point of the entire story:

This is a big one, this lie. [87]. And of course I want to believe it – f*** the Buddha – I want to believe that maybe this Ultimate Fantasy Vacation will be enough pampering, that this time the luxury and pleasure will be so completely and faultlessly administered that my Infantile part will be sated. [88]

Note: Those were actual footnotes within that quote, which sorta goes to show the craziness of Wallace and his style of course.

Wallace almost seemed a bit like Stephen Colbert, and him specifically, as compared to other television comedians, because of their shared style in just getting wrapped up in something. Colbert adopts his opposing position and just pushes it to the most extreme in order to show his true meaning, and it seems that Wallace does the same. He goes through and methodologically categorizes every single minute experience to make his point of despair, but keeping the readers in stitches.

So go read this book, and you’ll agree that this is one supposedly fun thing that you will want to read and reread for many years in the future.

 

Backlink to Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/683450413

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