Interesting article in a recent New Yorker about Wallace by a writer named D. T. Max, who must have been a friend, because the article contains the first comments that I've seen from DFW's widow, Karen Green, not to mention excerpts from his unfinished novel, "The Pale King," which is now set to be published.
Goes to show how deep my blogging hibernation was that not even the deaths of Wallace, my favorite writer, and Harvey Korman, who is responsible for the name of this blog, could rouse me.
In DFW's honor, and just because I sort of feel like it, here's one of my favorite bits of his writing, which occurs towards the end of "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," a story (from his nonfiction collection of the same name) that chronicles a trip aboard a luxury cruise for Harper's magazine.
Wallace has been describing how, despite the cruise's promise to meet all his needs and satiate all his desires, he finds himself coming up with new ways to be discontent, noting for instance the busboy whose between-course crumb sweeping "never seems to get quite all the crumbs" and the ice sculptures at the midnight buffet that "sometimes look hurriedly carved." And now, having slowly accumulated narrative momentum over the course of two pages, he builds to a crescendo:
I'm standing here on Deck 12 looking at a Dreamward that I bet has cold water that'd turn your knuckles blue, and, like Frank Conroy, part of me realizes that I haven't washed a dish or tapped my foot in line behind somebody with multiple coupons at a supermarket checkout in a week; and yet instead of feeling refreshed and renewed I'm anticipating just how totally stressful and demanding and unpleasurable regular landlocked adult life is going to be now that even just the premature removal of a towel by a sepulchral crewman seems like an assault on my basic rights, and plus now the sluggishness of the Aft elevator is an outrage, and the absence of 22.5-lb dumbbells in the Olympic Health Club's dumbbell rack is a personal affront. And now as I'm getting ready to go down to lunch I'm mentally drafting a really mordant footnote on my single biggest peeve about the Nadir: soda-pop is not free, not even at dinner: you have to order a Mr. Pibb from the 5-star-C.R.'s maddeningly E.S.L.-hampered cocktail waitress just like it was a fucking Slippery Nipple, and then you have to sign for it right there at the table, and they charge you -- and they don't even have Mr. Pibb; they foist Dr. Pepper on you with a maddeningly unapologetic shrug when any fool knows Dr. Pepper is no substitute for Mr. Pibb, and it's an absolute goddamned travesty, or at any rate extremely dissatisfying indeed.
1) As an East Coast native, I grew up with Dr. Pepper, and I'd always regarded Mr. Pibb (now Pibb Xtra, apparently) as a pathetic rip-off. It was a revelation to discover there were Mr. Pibb loyalists who looked down their noses at Dr. Pepper.
2) It's interesting to note that, in the original version that appeared in Harper's (available online to subscribers only), Wallace ended his tirade with "or -- at best -- extremely dissatisfying indeed."
Replacing "at best" with "at any rate" is a small change, one of the numerous alterations he made in republishing the piece, but a very good one. It subtly but significantly reshapes the tone of the sentence, providing a brief denouement following the climax of "travesty," downshifting from outrage to irony, as though the author just realized that perhaps he'd gotten a little carried away.