While praising, mostly, Joan Didion’s essays, the name David Foster Wallace and his long essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” kept coming up. Since I’ve never succeeded in reading David Foster Wallace’s fiction, I’ve tried boy The Broom of the System and Infinate Jest twice but have never gotten more than twenty pages into either, I decided to give his non-fiction a go.
I wish I could say that I became a Foster Wallace fanboy, they all seem to be having such a good time, but I did not. I liked the essay, enjoyed most of it, laughed out loud a few times and honestly admired much of the prose, but this may be the only Foster Wallace I ever read.
“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” is his famous 1996 account of a Carribean cruise he wrote for Harper’s magazine. Since he was given free reign to write whatever he wanted to, he seized the day including every aspect of the trip one could ever hope for with footnotes. Lots of footnotes.
I think the footnotes are one of the things his fans like most about this essay. They are good, interesting enough, and they do add to the essay much the same way the footnotes in Manuel Puig’s wonderful novel Kiss of the Spider Woman do. But I liked Puig’s footnotes better. I got a bit tired of Foster Wallace’s footnotes, maybe just a little bit tired of Mr. Foster Wallace to be honest.
He does go one. See the opening sentence in the photo above for an example. David Foster Wallace was not one to settle for twelve words when eighty-seven would do just as well.
There was a time when I would have enjoyed the essay more, probably prior to my 35th birthday. It’s my belief that there are certain books, certain authors, that you should read before a certain age. A few you should read after a certain age, too. You should read Catcher in the Rye before you leave high school for example; Brideshead Revisited before you leave your 20’s; and wait until you’re older before you read Middlemarch. Trust me.
Mr. Foster Wallace’s cruise reminded of my recent trip to Disney World where my brother and sister-in-law were renewing their vows after 25 years of marraige. I didn’t want to go– C.J. and I have no children so we’d just be a middle-age gay couple roaming around the magic kingdom looking confused since neither of us has any desire to go on a roller coaster. But the whole experience is so well orchestrated to produce fun, to make everyone happy, and everyone there is so genuinely happy to see you, and you can’t sit on a bench for ten minutes without some form of pretty decent entertainment going by, that we had a terrific time in spite of ourselves.
This is essentially the same story arc you’ll find in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”
Read it now, before it’s too late.