Top positive review
He lives! Wonderful & nuanced portrait.
on September 27, 2017
From the moment I was introduced to DFW, I not only loved his work but felt that I knew him. Characters like the Hungarian waiter, in his cruise ship piece have stayed with me over the decades. I still quote from his work. DFW is the real deal a truly tortured genius and this biographer doesn't spare him. Although I knew he was an alcoholic/substance abuser, I didn't realize how hard he worked to remain sober and how much he admired, loved and needed his recovery groups. His struggles with anti-depressants and their side effects were heartbreaking to read about, as is of course his final determined suicide.
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.