“Great chronicling David Foster Wallace. Very interesting!”see full review » see other reviews »
“Great chronicling David Foster Wallace. Very interesting!”Shawn Tooley wrote this review Sunday, April 21, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“The book is providing a platform from where one can explore the world, literary world that is, of DFW. For instance, DFW's ideas about irony and the American life and literature is worth following up. I think that D.T.Max is overall failing somewhat to give a convincing evaluation of the works of DFW. Perhaps he expects reader to reach his=her own conclusions.
“I'm a big Wallace fan and could always sense his mental health struggles through the fiction, so it was interesting to get the story on that. The writing is okay but the story is excellent. If you like Wallace's work, it's a worth-while read.”sheebeaux wrote this review Saturday, February 23, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“This is a big book about a big book. I gave a real run at Infinite Jest earlier in the year and could not finish it. However, having people I respect and admire continuing to promote, think about, discuss and reference the book I really did want to read the book. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story is the biography of the author of Infinite Jest and I think what I learned about the author will help me to read Infinite Jest through and share in the joyful life of discussion with friends who made it to the summit before me.”Tim Mather wrote this review Monday, January 21, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Serious readers of contemporary American fiction at least know about David Foster Wallace, a wunderkind whose massive novel “Infinite Jest” had a great effect on literature. Now, just four years after his death from suicide at age 46, we have the first biography of this remarkable writer.
D.T. Max, a New Yorker writer who worked with the cooperation of Wallace’s family and friends, distills a large amount of research, including access to Wallace’s notes and many of his letters. Max also displays his careful reading of the writer’s published works, including his three novels, three short story collections and many nonfiction essays.
Wallace grew up in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., then went to Amherst, where he excelled in his studies, focusing on philosophy and literature, winning many academic awards. He also struggled with depression and had to leave school at times.
During one stay at the psychiatric unit of a hospital, “the doctors likely considered the possibility that he suffered from bipolar disorder, manic depression.” But they ended up putting him on Nardil, which instead treats atypical depression. He would stay on this drug until a year before he died.
A recognized genius (he received a MacArthur grant), Wallace incorporated huge amounts of information and created new approaches to storytelling. His head teemed with thoughts too numerous to communicate. For an epigraph to the book, Max uses a quote from Wallace’s story “Good Old Neon”: “What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.”
We learn how much of Wallace’s own experience he used in his fiction. In a footnote, Max quotes Wallace’s sister, Amy: “We [the Wallace family] quietly agreed that his nonfiction was fanciful and his fiction was what you had to look out for.”
Max traces Wallace’s writing from his first book, “The Broom of the System,” written as his senior thesis at Amherst and widely acclaimed, to his last, the posthumous “The Pale King,” which he left unfinished at his death. He shows how Wallace changed through the years, growing from “Broom,” a postmodern novel heavily influenced by Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, through his first story collection, “The Girl with Curious Hair,” which critiques such metafictionists as John Barth, to “Infinite Jest,” which marked a major change from using irony to pointing toward a more positive outcome.
Partly through his own experience of addiction, Wallace had come to see America as “a nation of addicts, unable to see that what looked like love freely given was really need neurotically and chronically unsatisfied.” However, rather than simply describe that addiction, Wallace said in an interview, the writer’s job was to give “CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.” Wallace noted that “American writers were still content to describe an ironic culture when they should be showing the way out.”
Max, who gives much attention to Wallace’s best-known work, writes, “In ‘Infinite Jest,’ Wallace was proposing to wash Pynchonian excess in the chilling waters of DeLillo’s prose and then heat it up again in Dostoevsky’s redemptive fire.” He goes on: “The book is at once a meditation on the pain of adolescence, the pleasures of intoxication, the perils of addiction, the price of isolation, and the precariousness of sanity.”
With the publication of that book in 1996, Wallace became a celebrity, and the attention was excruciating to one who so resisted crowds and prized his privacy. By then he had taken a job at Illinois State University that allowed him to teach part-time and write the rest of the time.
After nearly a decade there, he accepted an invitation from Pomona College in California, to write and teach one course per semester. There, following many failed relationships with women, he met Karen Green, an artist, whom he later married.
Meanwhile, he published two collections of short stories, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and “Oblivion,” plus numerous nonfiction pieces, many collected in two books, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” and “Consider the Lobster.”
But he agonized to make progress on “The Pale King,” the novel he was writing about the IRS. Always a perfectionist, he felt stuck trying to figure out the right approach to the work.
At the same time, he was happy with Green and decided to go off Nardil in 2007. Doctors tried different combinations of antidepressants and even electroconvulsive therapy, but on Sept. 12, 2008, Wallace hung himself at home.
Max has charted not only the life of this extraordinary writer but his influence on literature. One of his more influential works actually came from a graduation address Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005. In a speech against egoism and egotism, he encouraged students to practice awareness, to open themselves, even in line at the supermarket, “to a moment of the most supernal beauty—‘on fire with the same force that lit the stars—compassion, love, the subsurface unity of all things.’ ”
Someone taped the speech and wrote it out online. It went viral and later was published in a short book. The speech summed up, in a way, the arc of Wallace’s writing, seeking some truth behind the banalities of daily life. And his honest struggle seemed to resonate with many readers. It still does.”
“This is a really engaging book on David Foster Wallace. Sure, people might say that Wallace's life is what makes this book good, but it's not. There would be too much of it to make sense of it all without a good deal of sifting, editing and moulding, which D. T. Max has done here.
It's a chronological book that undoubtedly puts Wallace up front, even though I get the feeling that's what Wallace would least of all have wanted, during his lifetime.
Having read "Infinite Jest" and "The Pale King" before I read this biography, I must say it was completely eye-opening at times, when it comes to his works.
Starting off with Wallace's childhood, we learn of his connection with language and play:
[blockquote]No one else listened to David as his mother did. She was smart and funny, easy to confide in, and included him in her love of words. Even in later years, and in the midst of his struggle with the legacy of his childhood, he would always speak with affection of the passion for words and grammar she had given him. If there was no word for a thing, Sally Wallace would invent it: “greebles” meant little bits of lint, especially those that feet brought into bed; “twanger” was the word for something whose name you didn’t know or couldn’t remember. She loved the word “fantods,” meaning a feeling of deep fear or repulsion, and talked of “the howling fantods,” this fear intensified. These words, like much of his childhood, would wind up in Wallace’s work. To outside eyes, Sally’s enthusiasm for correct usage might seem extreme. When someone made a grammatical mistake at the Wallace dinner table, she would cough into her napkin repeatedly until the speaker saw the error. She protested to supermarkets whenever she saw the sign “Ten items or less” posted above their express checkout lines.[/blockquote]
Yeah, his mother was a language nazi, which he also turned into. Although Wallace seems to have been very gentle about that, except when admonishing his own work and correcting his students (and his editors and proof readers).
He was great at learning stuff that seemed finite, but in other cases he faced problems:
[blockquote]His teammates were more successful with girls than Wallace, and, frustrated, he would try to solve the complexity of attraction the way he solved the trajectory of a tennis shot: “How do you know when you can ask a girl out?” “How do you know when you can kiss her?” His teammates told him not to think so hard; he would just know.[/blockquote]
While discovering life and earning top marks in school, he started writing.
[blockquote]One story he worked on, according to Costello, was called “The Clang Birds,” about a fictional bird that flies in ever decreasing circles until it disappears up its own ass.[/blockquote]
His literary turn to honesty as a main driving force is clearly visible throughout his growing up, partly because he was an alcoholic, but also because lying seemed to permeate society:
[blockquote]A typical line from an ad featuring the pathologically inaccurate spokesman: “Hi, I’m Joe Isuzu and I used my new Isuzu pickup truck to carry a two-thousand-pound cheeseburger.” The prospect that horrified Wallace most was that Americans were so used to being lied to that any other relationship with media would feel false.[/blockquote]
He answered letters from fellow authors - notably writing with Don Delillo and Jonathan Franzen - and was often apologising:
[blockquote]He made amends wherever he could, sometimes to excess. He wrote to his Arizona sponsor that “I struggle a great deal, and am 99.8% real,” then crossed that out and wrote in “98.8%,” noting in a parenthesis in the margin, “Got a bit carried away here.”[/blockquote]
When writing about boredom in "The Pale King":
[blockquote]As he wrote in a notebook: Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. The problem came up when he tried to dramatize this idea. How do you write about dullness without being dull? The obvious solution, if you had Wallace’s predilections, was to overwhelm this seemingly inert subject with the full movement of your thought. Your characters might be low-level bureaucrats, but the rippling tactility of your writing would keep them from appearing static. But this strategy presented its own problem: Wallace could make the characters vibrant, but only at the risk of sacrificing what made their situation worth narrating—the stillness at the center of their lives. How could you preach mindful calmness if you couldn’t replicate it in prose? A failed entertainment that succeeded was just an entertainment. Yet Wallace had never really found a verbal strategy to replace his inborn one. In more ways than he cared to acknowledge he remained the author of The Broom of the System.[/blockquote]
It didn't seem like Wallace would ever fall victim to hubris:
[blockquote]In time these early Internet users took up Wallace for their fan communities too, a transition that particularly discomfited him (though to be fair anything that reinforced the masonry of the statue did). When in March 2003 a member of Wallace-l told Wallace about their email list at a taping of a reading for The Next American Essay, a compilation of creative nonfiction edited by John D’Agata that Wallace had contributed to, his response was, “You know, for emotional reasons and sanity I have to pretend this doesn’t exist.”[/blockquote]
And, in the very end:
[blockquote]They joked about the unthinkable. Green warned him that if he killed himself she’d be “the Yoko Ono of the literary world, the woman with all the hair who domesticated you and look what happened.” They made a pact that he would never make her guess how he was doing.[/blockquote]
It's a lovely book, it really is. It's easy to draw parallels between the lives of DFW and Bill Hicks, both persons being gentle, humble, passionate, thinking and self critical.”
“New Book, September 2012”Whitaker Library wrote this review Monday, September 24, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Very good, but you need to be a big fan to enjoy it I think. Luckily, I'm besmitten. ”Frikk wrote this review Sunday, October 14, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No