Few instances elicit a vocal response on the CNN news ticker, but on September 13, 2008 which fell on a Saturday, I murmured an audible, “No.” David Foster Wallace had died by his own hand the previous night. Amidst the inane celebrity dribble that inundates the masses, I quietly mourned the loss of a great mind whose writing talent I had encountered through a Book Club selection of Infinite Jest. Coincidentally during the prior evening, I had championed his prose to several family members. Pausing my reading due to the near impossibility of completing by the Book Club meeting in August 2008, I returned with a vigor following his passing as if on a respectful quest.
David Foster Wallace predicted many technological wastelands that critics bemoan with fractured attentions and social ticks resulting from the internet. Other than his accidental foresight that wanted to address the lack of interior fulfillment, his syntax and renderings of the misused and truthful examples of sharp irony catapulted him from his peers. He revealed to readers, before it became vogue, the inner lives of addicts and recovering addicts in programs. In particular, the overlap between the emptied young tennis players striving for rankings to the former addicts contending with minute by minute sobriety demonstrated acutely the pervasive voids acquiring more members partly due to modern life.
From there, I read his non fiction pieces and fiction short stories alike in Oblivion, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (adapted to film by US The Office’s John Krasinski in 2009), and his debut novel The Broom of the System. In 2010, Santa or my mother gifted me his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College bound in a friendly hardback book. Naturally, D. T. Max’s biography provided an appropriate compendium to DFW material consumed.
Reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot (2012) where character Leonard Bankhead is Eugenide’s ode to the deceased literary giant then months later this biography submerged the private made public persona of DFW. The unshakable phantom of depression hounded him from high school years that made deadlines a daunting prospect and any limits on words or pages something to be exceeded as almost a defiant position that restrictions beyond his mind and body were to be disregarded. Effortless, DFW could excel in any subject area even if extra hours where required in the quantitative domain. This stance to outpace others at Amherst and elsewhere was also the same mechanism that induced tailspins.
His inventive writing style shifted to sincerity that he followed in his own recovery program. At the same time, his initial approach of ignoring the reader transformed into a moral mission once Infinite Jest (1996) reached the masses. The reason why DFW could craft the spaces outside of people so well and be mostly remembered for this was tied to his own insistence to find strength outside of himself to carry on. His roundabout preaching that decried the “entertain us” plea highlighted a major fear in himself once the distractions and productivity ceased. Lauded and referenced repeatedly in later years, Infinite Jest‘s specter placed an insurmountable onus for his next novel The Pale King. Incomplete, it was published posthumously in 2011 and would have been a remarkable feat to impose dry subject matter of IRS protagonist and story as a way for readers to push through the boredom to a spiritual nirvana. He would not have the opportunity to finish however.
Relationship entanglements with females consisted of motherly types (when not flights of passion) to substitute for his own mother and could act as a caregiver in his depressive states. His wife had a son from her first marriage and being a visual artist did not compete in his literary landscape. DFW rushed courtship, but in Karen L. Green, toxicity and 13th stepping did not apply. Ostensibly, he had managed a stable setting until doctors recommended trying another drug in place of the 21 year use of “dirty drug” Nardil. Finding a replacement drug treatment is a treacherous course that requires patience as it undermines the patient’s resilience and sanity. After years of struggle and being hallowed out in this painstaking process, DFW decided to remove himself from this world.
Biographer D. T. Max researched extensively and followed as closely as he could manage the circuitous route to DFW’s publications and frequent changes of location along with mindsets. Any fan of DFW will be adequately pleased with this account.