Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

David Foster Wallace’s writing showcases a remarkable talent, as adept at the novel as at the short story and as skillful in nonfiction as in fiction. Although the literary heft and cultural impact of Infinite Jest may have led critics during Wallace’s lifetime to consider him primarily a novelist, he was a writer capable of excellent work in any genre, and in years to come his versatile contributions to the short-story and nonfiction forms will doubtless add to his reputation as much as did his second novel. In Girl with Curious Hair (1989), his first collection of short stories, Wallace demonstrated his keen eye for representing the complexities of life in the late twentieth century. He would follow with later short-story collections Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999) and Oblivion (2004).

As an essayist, he published detailed philosophical explorations of the death of the author and on the love-hate relationship between fiction and television in the United States as well as humorous travel reports such as “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” (originally published as “Shipping Out”), a chronicle of his misadventures aboard a mass-market luxury Caribbean cruise liner. During his visit to the Illinois State Fair in “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All,” Wallace weaves his way among pungent livestock and nauseating rides and indulges in too many prizewinning desserts when he is mistaken for a contest judge. Other essays, including personal profiles of film director David Lynch and tennis player Michael Joyce, provide insights into Wallace’s artistry and excellence. The compilation of these essays into A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (1997) established Wallace as a significant commentator on the modern American lifestyle; he cemented his reputation as a skilled nonfiction chronicler with the essays (published in venues as diverse as Gourmet, Rolling Stone, and Harper’s magazines) collected in Consider the Lobster, and Other Essays (2005). In 1990, Wallace published Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present, which he coauthored with novelist (and college roommate) Mark Costello. Wallace also published Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (2003), a treatise on the mathematical premise of infinity and the nineteenth century mathematician Greg Cantor.