Summary (of a review?)
Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think is a review of John Updike's "Toward the End of Time" (originally published in the New York Observer)
Wallace shares his dislike for anything related to Updike's way of thinking, best summed up in this quote:
- "Toward the End of Time concerns an extremely erudite, successful, narcissistic, and sex-obsessed retired guy who’s keeping a one-year journal in which he explores the apocalyptic prospect of his own death. Toward the End of Time is also, of the let’s say two dozen Updike books I’ve read, far and away the worst, a novel so clunky and self-indulgent that it’s hard to believe the author let it be published in this kind of shape.
- I’m afraid the preceding sentence is this review’s upshot, and most of the remainder here will consist simply of presenting evidence/justification for such a disrespectful assessment."
Particularly biting, the review is humorous in that it's one author attacking another on the very same traits that the former carries himself.
As a review for a book, there aren't so much "themes" as in literature, but a cenrtal topic that Wallace focuses on:
Self-obsession or solipsism: Wallace believes that Updike’s works are all about Updike and thus are about self-obsession.
"Makes misogyny seem literary the same way Rush makes fascism seem funny."
-Wallace on Updike
This review, like most book reviews, is told in the first person by Wallace.
This review originally appeared in the New York Observer under the title “John Updike, Champion Literary Phallocrat, Drops One; Is This Finally the End for Magnificent Narcissists?” on October 12, 1997.
Criticism & Irony
Throughout the review, Wallace lists traits of Updike that, ironically, could be applied to himself:
1. On self-insertion:
"John Updike, for example, has for decades been constructing protagonists who are basically all the same guy...and who are all clearly stand-ins for Updike himself."
The above quote is ironic because many of Wallace's characters are based on his own experiences in dealing with an Ivy League education (The Broom of the System) and in dealing with drug addiction and recovery (Infinite Jest).
And many are variations on the same character, at times sharing a common name and eventually reaching either a tragic end or finding redemption.
2. On writing in a new genre:
"Toward the End of Time is being marketed by its publisher as...his foray into the futuristic-dystopic tradition of Huxley and Ballard and soft sci-fi."
Again, one could describe Infinite Jest in such terms: Wallace's novel is set in a futuristic world where a film has the potential to kill its viewers and a group of separatist terrorists seeks it out to use it as a weapon.
The similarities go on, but one thing that's commonly said about this review, is that it is Wallace's most cynical - a sentiment apparent in the many insults Wallace launches at Updike, right up until the last sentence:
"It never once occurs to him [Updike], though, that the reason he's so unhappy is that he's an asshole."