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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, Omnivoracious.com, to read an exclusive essay from D.T. Max: "5 Things You Didn't Know About David Foster Wallace - But Should."
*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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Correspondence with Franzen and DiLillo reveal DFW's insecurity about not measuring up to their genius as social seers for the new era and he constantly feared being left behind. DT Max never comes off as preachy or having insight into the mind of DFW but instead seems humbled by the giant shadow DFW casts and I think that makes for a work to be trusted. The bibliography and footnotes themselves are reminiscent of DFW's own meticulous research.
I love the images of Wallace with his rescued dogs, surrounded by stacks of paper, happiest when in the thick of writing on a difficult subject - "The Mathematics of Infinity" comes to mind. Now there's a subject to fixate on. I am almost afraid to read it, certain that I will become overawed by his ability to move from letters to numbers with ease. I am also happy that his work is actually gaining in popularity and stature as time goes by.
D.T. Max captures the complexity of the man, the attention and kindness he showed to his students, the care he showed to his animals and financial generosity with friends and ex-lovers from the large endowments he received for his work. That these qualities reside alongside sex addiction, financial irresponsibility and professional jealousy makes for a realistic and interesting portrait.
If there is a flaw in the work it is that I wanted to better understand his obsession with suicide at the end of his life. Withdrawal from antidepressants does not quite cover the determination with which he carried out his final mission. Oddly, I feel a weird comfort in knowing that it was not an accident.
This work does what all good biographies should: make me want to read more of his work.
I think one of the things that will stay with me for a while, in addition to several vocabulary lessons(1), is DFW's extensive commitment to his addiction recovery. Like Don Gately, he built walls around some difficult days, just to get to the next. His writings and his personal experiences have done much to help me understand the plight of those who suffer from chronic depression and addiction. I want to thank DT Max for bringing this treasure of man into sharper focus for me.
(1) For example, Nauseous vs. nauseated: According to the Militant Grammarian(2) site [...], 'when one feels like vomiting, one feels NAUSEATED. When something causes nausea, that thing is said to be NAUSEOUS. The American Heritage English Dictionary sez:
nauseous - Causing nausea; sickening
nauseated - To be feeling, or having been caused to feel nausea.
So, next time you are tempted to say "I feel nauseous", understand that you are saying "I feel that I make other people sick", or basically "I feel nauseating".'
(2) Phrogs.net is note actually a Millitant Grammarian site, as far as I can discern, but labeling them as such fits with the whole DFW narrative.
D.T. Max is honest without losing compassion or idealizing David Foster Wallace. The latter is not easy. To me, he is as flawless as he is tragic. But Max does it.
This is an excellent read on its own merits, regardless of whether you are fan of DFW. It's essential if you are a fan.
Most recent customer reviews
- DFW was brilliant
- He was right about a lot
- He made me focus on my grammar a bit more
- There will never be another...Read more