The title Consider The Lobster is more a demand than an invitation: You must consider the lobster. Or, rather, you must know that there's a lot more to consider about the lobster than you'd expect. David Foster Wallace considers the lobster—or, more specifically, the 2004 Maine Lobster Festival—in the title piece of this 10-essay collection, and finds it a fine jumping-off point for a discussion of whether animals feel pain, and whether this should influence how we think about the ethics of eating them in the first place. And, hey, what is pain anyway, really? Wallace devotes plenty of words to the main event, but as always, he puts as much action in the footnotes.

"Consider The Lobster" originally appeared in Gourmet, and however it initially played to the subscribers, it fits in well here. Without straying from his subjects, Wallace zooms back to take in the bigger picture. Chronicling a trip to the Adult Video News Awards in high new-journalism style (though originally published under a double pseudonym in Premiere), "Big Red Son" becomes an occasion to discuss not just how sexuality gets packaged and sold in America, but also how most everything gets packaged and sold. It ends up as a more damning (and much funnier) portrait of the porn industry than a moral watchdog could ever hope to write.


Few of Lobster's entries capture Wallace's humor as well. An attack on an already-forgotten John Updike novel, for instance, reads as more gratuitous than insightful. (Why don't more people question the ethics of novelists critiquing other novelists?) But the long setpieces demonstrate how carefully Wallace can weave forceful arguments between the digressions. (Or, perhaps more accurately, how all those digressions build into a forceful argument.) Ostensibly a review of Bryan A. Garner's A Dictionary Of Modern American Usage, "Authority And American Usage" examines how ongoing "usage wars" reflect not only a broader clash between liberal and conservative partisans, but also the future of English itself. A bookend to "Big Red Son," "Up, Simba" watches the selling of John McCain during the 2000 primaries and questions whether an honest man can survive the process with what made him appealing intact. It's all done with a light touch that belies a rigorous construction in which every detail counts. By Foster's reckoning, the comments of jaded cameramen reveal as much about contemporary politics as what their cameras capture, and in considering everything, he almost can't help but stumble on the truth.