Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Other DFW

My pal Brian e-mailed me on Sunday to tell me that the author David Foster Wallace had committed suicide.

My initial reaction was one of sadness and dismay. What drives a genius to self-destruction?

There was some additional insight in Bruce Weber's obit for Wallace in the New York Times here.

But the more I thought about it, the less detached I became. Ask me what he's written, and I can name the titles. Ask me what I've read, and you'll get a blank stare. Weber refers to him as an heir to Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLilo. Therein lies the rub, DFW was a complicated writer and I have, sometimes, a difficult time getting into writers that challenge me above and beyond what I'm willing to be challenged by.

I maybe read the first story or two in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Nothing grabbed me and pulled me into the realm of Wallace.

So, I will quote two friends, who commented to me on his passing.

First, my friend Rebecca, who wrote, "I was shocked, horrified and saddened when I read about it this morning on the NY Times website. I read Infinite Jest in my late 20s, on my first trip to France. It was a life altering experience, and I am so sad he is gone. Gives further proof to the axiom 'only the good die young' ".

My Canadian friend Brian elaborated. He has had a deeper look into the soul of DFW, as a fan and collector:

"This is weird news (as well as unwelcome & sad) to me because I met him once, at Book Soup in LA, and liked him very much. Exhausted after 48 hrs without sleep, he was a very gracious signer: signing books, a poster plus a couple of origami promos for Infinite Jest that his publisher had handed out to store employees ... But the memory that remains is of neurosis; a highly neurotic personality that was practiced at appearing to be confident. [if he hadn't been exhausted, would I have noticed?] At the time I thought that I was over-imagining the issue, though I noted that such a roundabout personality trait (avoidance?) did explain his writing style of endless diversions from the stated topic. In the years since then I continued to follow his career with some interest, especially when he wrote personal, biographical pieces, about his youth as tennis prodigy... and a very dark, strange piece he wrote in an obscure NYC magazine called Open City (the kind of non-paying gig that successful writers avoid). This piece was about when he was packing for college at age 19, and how he suddenly had a flashback of a memory of being 8 or 9 and his father...shocking him [with some inappropriate gesture]. The piece went on about the ramifications of this buried incident (had he imagined it? was a possibility) and the strangeness of life generally. Reading the piece by pure chance--and it was published around the time of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, what a title---I wondered if it was meant to be fantasy, a projection, or if it was a memoir (the tone was elusive, as if DFW wasn't sure). Now I wonder again. And wonder what this means about the forthcoming movie of Brief Interviews---how truly dark it all seems now."
Even though I wasn't a reader, I was a fan, and the loss of David Foster Wallace saddens me thoroughly.

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