"Told in fragmented, strobe-lighted chapters that depict an assortment of misfits, outsiders and eccentrics, the novel sometimes feels like the TV show ‘The Office’ as rewritten with a magnifying glass by Nicholson Baker.
[…] there are some wonderfully evocative sections here that capture the exhausting annoyances of everyday life with digital precision. The sticky, nauseating feeling of traveling on a small, crowded commuter plane, crammed up against “paunched and blotchy men in double-knit brown suits and tan suits with attaché cases ordered from in-flight catalogs.” Or the suffocating feeling of being stuck on a filthy bus, with ashtrays spilling over with gum and cigarette butts, the air-conditioning “more like a vague gesture toward the abstract idea of air-conditioning” than the real thing.
In this, his most emotionally immediate work, Wallace is on intimate terms with the difficulty of navigating daily life, and he conjures states of mind with the same sorcery he brings to pictorial description. He conveys the gut deep sadness people experience when “the wing of despair” passes over their lives, and the panic of being a fish “thrashing in the nets” of one’s own obligations, stuck in a miserable job and needing to “cover the monthly nut.”
This novel reminds us what a remarkable observer Wallace was — a first-class “noticer,” to use a Saul Bellow term, of the muchness of the world around him, chronicling the overwhelming data and demands that we are pelted with, second by second, minute by minute, and the protean, overstuffed landscape we dwell in.