cover image Both Flesh and Not: Essays

Both Flesh and Not: Essays

David Foster Wallace. Little, Brown, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-18237-9

Now that Wallace’s unfinished novel The Pale King has been published posthumously, the inevitable trawl of his uncollected writings may begin in earnest and, as is the case here, it will inevitably yield both dingers and duds. His writings on subjects ranging from the U.S. Open to Zbigniew Herbert, the AIDS virus to Terminator 2, display, yet again, Wallace’s genuine and infectious love for obsessive human endeavors as disparate as pro tennis, analytic philosophy, and pure math. However, for all the gems, a few essays are simply too slight to merit inclusion, while others such as “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young” have the sort of precociously earnest tone that makes one wonder how happy Wallace would have been about their inclusion. Despite this, the opening essay “Federer Both Flesh And Not” by itself is worth the price of admission. If to that one adds “The Nature of the Fun” (his essay on writing fiction) and “Deciderization 2007—A Special Report” (his introduction to The Best American Essays 2007), the collection already beats most competitors hands down. There is a rare pleasure in reading Wallace at his best. As he writes of Roger Federer: “Genius is not replicable. Inspiration, though, is contagious and multiform.” (Nov.)