David Foster Wallace Biography Reveals Author's Brilliant Yet Troubled Mind
In David Foster Wallace's most-acclaimed novel, "Infinite Jest," a character that eventually winds up in rehab due to prolific pot binges enters the story anxiously waiting for his drug dealer. The discipline the character applies to arranging his benders is almost equal to the discipline he'll need to kick the habit.
The scene is a Rosetta stone into what may have been Wallace's greatest gift: his talent to describe the inner workings of our minds.
In "Every Love Story is a Ghost Story," biographer D. T. Max presents an intricate companion guide to understanding Wallace's life and works. "David's story had a purity even in its impurity," says Max.
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Max follows Wallace's life from his Midwestern roots up to his untimely death - Wallace committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46. The writer's path appears more as a battle against himself in the end, though. Wallace shifts from a youth with the "moral clarity of the immature," as he wrote in his debut novel, "The Broom of the System," to a writer who deeply cared about his readership, aching to teach them how to live life to the fullest, and squeeze the marrow out of every word they used.
"The thing that's so alluring and seductive about David," Max says, "is that he never loses interest in your life. What all his work sends is 'take yourself seriously.'"
However, that apparently wasn't always the case. Max's portrayal of Wallace greatly differs at times from the identity that Wallace honed through his work and interviews. For instance, avid Wallace fans will be surprised to learn that his research into drug addiction and rehabilitation for "Infinite Jest" came firsthand, and how his relationships could produce a side of Wallace that was borderline psychotic.
However, Max says, "The dark side of David is so closely tied in with the bright side of him, I think, if we didn't have that dark side ... teaching us to take our lives seriously wouldn't be possible."
Wallace was also, at times, a fun, loving person who watched "Jurassic Park" dozens of times, drove a lemon hours on end to visit friends and let his dogs lick his mouth clean.
Wallace was a writer who gave so much to a readership that loved him in return and fittingly Max's biography is part vigil, part celebration. When Max describes Wallace's time as a professor, it's hard to not yearn to have been one of his students.
"Every Love Story" also details Wallace's works with a criticism that respects his authorial intent, and illuminates them even further.
Though there'll be no more new works from Wallace in the future, "Every Love Story" offers a wonderful dose of his life and ideas, asking us, as Wallace did, "What's it like to be human in a human community?"
"I don't think he gave us the answer," Max says, "but I think he gave us the gift of the question."