Per the LA Times, David Foster Wallace hanged himself, Friday. What a tragic waste.
The first book of his I read was in late 1996. “Infinite Jest” came highly recommended by both Cecilia and Glen, Cecilia citing it as an excellent example of a genre she’d just coined called “Gonzo Futurism,” and Glen just raving. I started reading it while during commutes on the red line, back and forth to my contract gig in downtown Boston.
It’s not an easy book to begin. It requires a willingness to just keep going, even when exactly what’s going on isn’t clear, or when there’s a reference to an event which sounds like you must have missed it, earlier. It has an intriguingly non-linear narrative structure, reaching backwards and forwards through the 10-or-so years the novel covers. DFW worked with themes which struck chords with me then, and now: addiction, creativity, family expectations, redemption for past sins, personal integrity… and the absurdities all through the book had me laughing to myself, often. The much-described use of endnotes (there’s over one hundred pages of them; I used two bookmarks, one to hold my place in the main text, and one in the endnotes) worked perfectly for me. Constant referential or authorial asides (which I still make too frequently and too parenthetically) contributed to the book’s self-acknowledgment of being a text. They, too, made me laugh.
I loved the book. It became and remains the first book I’d take to be marooned on an island. Christmas 1997, I gave it to at least eight people, family and friends alike. Of them, only my then-girlfriend Joy finished it; she loved it ferociously, too.
His essays were always some combination of wordy, insightful, and hilarious – the title essay from “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” had me literally weeping with laughter, as did his account in “Consider the Lobster” of attending the Adult Video News Awards – while his shorter stories I found much darker, though no less engaging. Very dark, in some cases. “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” was, to my mind, his darkest set of work, and so revealing of the male psyche as to be a little uncomfortable to read. His accounts of depression and black-holes of self-doubt were incredibly dead-on, and maybe that kind of ability to describe those particular subjects comes with (or because of) a cost.
I really loved his writing, and had been looking forward to more. I’m saddened. No, more than that: I’m shocked. His written voice was one that I’d gotten used to, and now it’s silenced. Though I’d never personally spoken with him, I had that illusory feeling of knowing something about an author from reading what he wrote.
Whatever personal story brought him to hang himself, I don’t know, but the world’s pages will be substantially poorer for his absence.