A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
Recommended By: Ted Gentry
If it is possible to be at once deeply amused and deeply uneasy, then that’s how I felt upon reading David Foster Wallace’s acclaimed essay, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. A Supposedly Fun Thing chronicles and dissects Wallace’s experience on a seven-night Caribbean luxury cruise aboard a Celebrity Cruise Line megaship. The essay is available in a book-form collection of Wallace’s essays called, well, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.
The first things you notice about the essay are the rapier wit and the abundant footnoting. The two are not mutually exclusive. Some of the keenest observations and moments of pure joy for the reader appear in the footnotes. For example, flip to footnote 32, for an essay-within-the-essay painting a vivid description of Wallace’s shipmates with a few deft strokes of the dagger. But humor abounds. Wallace reels you in at the very beginning with the list of things he saw and learned on his cruise:
I have seen and smelled all 145 cats inside the Ernest Hemingway residence in Key West, Florida. I now know the difference between straight Bingo and Prize-O and what it is when a Bingo jackpot “snowballs.” I have pointed rhythmically at the ceiling to the 2:4 beat of the same disco music I hated pointing at the ceiling to in 1977. I now know the precise mixocological difference between a Slippery Nipple and a Fuzzy Navel. I have dickered over trinkets with malnourished children. I have now heard – and am powerless to describe – reggae elevator music.
The essay also has a more earnest mission. Wallace examines the insidious nature of the promise behind the cruise experience – that the guest will be “pampered” to a degree he or she has never before experienced. Always amusingly, Wallace unwraps the hollow nature of that promise. Regardless of how royally we are treated, we quickly come to take that level of pampering as a given. We demand more and higher pleasures in order to be satisfied, and we fly into a rage at any lapse in service – even a service that seemed outlandishly decadent only days before.
David Foster Wallace is widely regarded as one of the great authors in American letters. A Supposedly Fun Thing showcases him at his height – funny, observant, and thought-provoking.