Beloved for his keen eye, sharp wit, and relentless self-mockery, David Foster Wallace has been celebrated by both critics and fans as the voice of a generation. In this hilarious essay, originally published in the collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, he chronicles seven days in the Caribbean aboard the m.v. Zenith. As he partakes in supposedly fun activities offered on the luxury tour, he offers riotous anecdotes and unparalleled insight into contemporary American culture.
Like the tennis champs who fascinate him, novelist Wallace (Infinite Jest; The Broom of the System) makes what he does look effortless and yet inspired. His instinct for the colloquial puts his masters Pynchon and DeLillo to shame, and the humane sobriety that he brings to his subjects-fictional or factual-should serve as a model to anyone writing cultural comment, whether it takes the form of stories or of essays like these. Readers of Wallace's fiction will take special interest in this collection: critics have already mined "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" (Wallace's memoir of his tennis-playing days) for the biographical sources of Infinite Jest. The witty, insightful essays on David Lynch and TV are a reminder of how thoroughly Wallace has internalized the writing-and thinking-habits of Stanley Cavell, the plain-language philosopher at Harvard, Wallace's alma mater. The reportage (on the Illinois State Fair, the Canadian Open and a Caribbean Cruise) is perhaps best described as post-gonzo: funny, slight and self-conscious without Norman Mailer's or Hunter Thompson's braggadocio. Only in the more academic essays, on Dostoyevski and the scholar H.L. Hix, does Wallace's gee-whiz modesty get in the way of his arguments. Still, even these have their moments: at the end of the Dostoyevski essay, Wallace blurts out that he wants "passionately serious ideological contemporary fiction also ingenious and radiantly transcendent fiction." From most writers, that would be hot air; from one as honest, subtle and ambitious as Wallace, it has the sound of a promise.