From the archive
Mrs. Wallace has written just one book, an English grammar textbook called Practically Painless English. It is the only book of English grammar I know of that can hold a candle to the works of the Fowler brothers. Like them, Mrs. Wallace is delicate, fastidious, crystal-clear and tons of fun, but she has a lovely carefreedom and wild imagination all her own (except for bequeathing 100% of it to her son). Her book is full of snakes and gorillas, monsters, Superman, Cinderella, disasters of every description, ketchup on ice cream, kissing and parachutes and romance. It reveals a dizzying, intoxicating and dangerous world.
The calamities that befall recurring character Fedonia Krump in Practically Painless English, for example, keep the reader in a state of constant anxiety:
Fedonia completely drained the tea cup and then shakily climbed over the counter. She tried hard to sing “I Love You Truly,” but her voice was extremely gravelly. She was fading fast, but she felt too merry to go home. At closing time, she fell asleep on the dirty floor, and Bernie, the waiter, slowly scooped her into his arms, tenderly brushed the dirt from her cheek, and reluctantly threw her out into the snow.
Many David Wallace fans enjoy his frequent deployment of the phrase “the howling fantods” in Infinite Jest. It is a delight to come across this phrase in his mom’s book (2nd ed.), long before Infinite Jest was a gleam in its author’s eye. (”17. Snakes give me the howling fantods.“)