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Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace Hardcover – August 30, 2012

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Visit Amazon's books blog,, to read an exclusive essay from D.T. Max: "5 Things You Didn't Know About David Foster Wallace - But Should."

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*Starred Review* As endlessly interpretable writer David Foster Wallace’s first biographer, New Yorker staff writer Max seeks to be foundational. His straight-ahead approach corrals the commotion of Wallace’s struggle with his epic artistic visions, substance abuse, and severe depression into an involving, fast-flowing narrative rich in facts and free of speculation. So seamless is Max’s reportage that one loses sight of how many sources he consulted to fully chronicle young Illinoisan Wallace’s inherited passions for language and philosophy, spectacular academic achievements, self-medication with pot and alcohol, chaotic relationships, teaching gigs, and sustaining alliances with his agent, editors, guiding light Don DeLillo, and friend Jonathan Franzen. Max presents meticulous coverage of off-the-charts-smart Wallace’s literary intentions and innovations, from his impressive early first book, The Broom of the System (1987), to his nonfiction escapades to the bludgeoning demands of his masterpiece, Infinite Jest (1996), and The Pale King (2011), the brilliant novel this MacArthur fellow left unfinished when he committed suicide, in 2008, at age 46, at which point this biography abruptly concludes. Max’s thorough account of Wallace’s breakdowns, stints in psychiatric institutions and a halfway house, and profound reliance on support groups reveals the conviction and risks inherent in Wallace’s mission to write with integrity, humor, sincerity, and artistic incandescence and to make “the head throb heartlike.” --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (August 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780670025923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670025923
  • ASIN: 0670025925
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (112 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 105 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
All my adult reading life, I waited for a young contemporary writer to transport me to the prose-rich playgrounds of Nabokov and Pynchon. ADA and GRAVITY'S RAINBOW were my torches, but they were, arguably, emotionally sterile. When I read INFINITE JEST ten years ago, I knew I had finally found an author who, besides giving words an elastic, carbonated buoyancy, was a vigorously palpable storyteller, altogether tragic and heartbreaking.

I remember the exact moment when I heard that Wallace took his life (as I suspect did everyone who is reading this book, who read DFW before his death). It was like a brother or best friend had died. He was my rock star--my John Lennon, Peter Gabriel, and Bob Dylan all rolled up into literature. He wasn't yesterday's insurgent Kurt Cobain, he was today's voice--the insurrectionist of the insurrection, the anti-ironist and seeker of exigent summits.

D.T. Max evinces respect, compassion, and objectivity toward this now lionized author he has never met, in his biography assembled from the contributions of friends, family, lovers, AA comrades, colleagues, fellow writers, and epistolary confidants.

"Fiction is what it's like to be a f*****g human being," Wallace said, and Max shows us the utter turbulence of this writer's life, a man who lived inveterately with the howling fantods (a phrase from his mother, the grammarian, used potently in INFINITE JEST).

David was a depressed, addicted, chaotic genius, a man who felt that he never lived up to his lofty ambitions as a writer or a person. He was both fascinated and repulsed by the TV culture and how media hijacks and propagandizes public and private minds--his constant themes in his essays, short stories, and of course, IJ.
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54 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Heather on September 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I found this biography to be compelling, well written and meticulously researched by D.T. Max. There are so many intimate details about David Foster Wallace's life that it was like reading personal journals. I thought that the author remained for the most part nonjudgemental and objective.
There were two areas that I found not clearly explained or explored. One was Wallace's relationship with his Mother. The second was Wallace's relationship with the writer Mary Karr. The level of rage allegedly exhibited by Wallace towards Mary Karr despite the fact that he is clean, sober and on antidepressants is baffling to me. Did he really try to throw Mary Karr out of a moving vehicle? It is one bit of information that without a police report and witnesses I felt could have been left out of the story.
The biography is well paced. Although I knew at the beginning that David Foster Wallace would commit suicide, I did not know what event(s) would push him over the edge. Without giving away the final scenes of the book, it was not what I expected.
Writers, people in recovery, people familiar with severe depression and those who have admired David Foster Wallace's work, including countless students he taught over the years will glean much insight from this biography. Wallace's wisdom grew with his sobriety. One cannot help but like him and feel great compassion towards him. It made me wish I had known him and had the opportunity to take one of his courses.
This is one of the best biographies I have ever read.
Note to D.T. Max: In your footnotes, Chapter 5, 26. It should read "Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink." We alcoholics could never stop with just one.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By seaside mom on October 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Before reading this book, all I knew about David Foster Wallace was his quote about how people shrug off depression. I anticipated him to be a very sensitive, kind man, sympathetic to the suffering of mankind, gentle-spirited and so on. The biography, while admiring in tone and making a strong case that he was a genius, surprised me with its unsparing portrayal of Wallace's many addictions, carelessness with women and friends, and his self-absorption. I'm pretty sure now that if I'd ever met him, I wouldn't have liked him much personally.

But... I am fascinated at how he analyzed our media-crazed, pop culture world and carefully expressed his ideas using humor and fiction. This biography left me eager to read "Infinite Jest" to hear Wallace's voice directly.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Douglas McIntyre on October 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
D.T. Max has written the first full length biography of the talented and tragically doomed writer, David Foster Wallace. The book fills in a lot of biographical data, the gypsy-like path Wallace took across the country from his New England birth, middle-west childhood, back to New England for college, Arizona for graduate work, and ultimately Pomona, California where he met his sad end.

What's missing is any insight into the most important relationships in Wallace's life, his complex love/hate with his mother, sister and father, a man who comes off as distant, but possibly because Max has almost nothing to say about him. Max describes a happy and functional family and then reverses course in a paragraph, without explaining how this happy family was torn apart by divorce, with Wallace's mother moving out of the house for a year.

This may be the result of limited access to the Wallace family, but it leaves a lot of material for a future biographer.

"Every Love Story is a Ghost Story" is loaded with pedantic discussions of modernism and post-modernism and other arcane academic pursuits. What this reader wanted was more flesh and blood living. It reads more like journalism than biography.

As a fan of DFW I appreciate Max's effort to tell his story but suspect a more insightful biography awaits us.
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