Andy Hansen

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How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart - David Foster Wallace

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“How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” has got to be my favourite essay in David Foster Wallace’s, Consider the Lobster. In it, he thoroughly explains each layer of disappointment he has with Tracy’s ghostwritten autobiography. Touching on aspects such as the misplaced target audience, Tracy’s almost surreal naivety, and the lifeless descriptions of her experiences.

Intense back and forth matches are essentially reduced to “they got some points, I thought I was going to lose, I got some points, I won, that was good”. These terrible descriptions contrast perfectly with with how DFW explains his disappointment. He longs to know what it’s like to be in the head of a top athlete like Tracy, to experience her life defining moments. To go into a book hoping to understand those experiences, and getting such flat language in return felt like a real slap in the face. Thankfully for us, in describing his disappointment, DFW paints an incredible picture of how her story could have been framed.

What this essay taught me, is that if you are trying to convey your feelings in a story, it’s not enough to just say that you felt an emotion. Tracy’s achievements are nothing short of incredible, but the dull language makes it impossible to feel drawn into her life story. You can have amazing life experiences but you properly unpack why they felt so amazing, then the story is nearly worthless.

I’ve only described a tiny fragment of what makes this essay great, and I also appreciate the irony that I’ve given a fairly flat description as to why I love it so much. I highly recommend giving it a read, or if audiobooks are more your thing, you can listen to David Foster Wallace himself reading it on YouTube below.

If you liked my post, or feel like I could have done something better, please let me know in the comments! I’m doing my best, but I’ve still got a long way to go.