9.13.2008

david foster wallace dead of suicide at age 46

David Foster Wallace, the preternaturally talented young author of the novel Infinite Jest and several nonfiction masterpieces, has committed suicide at the age of 46. He was found in his Los Angeles home by his wife.

Allan, my partner, has a fascination - one might say obsession - with Wallace. Infinite Jest was his favourite novel, possibly his favourite written work, period. I've heard people say this is a book that many people bought but few read. I never knew that, since Allan read it more than once, and pored over it online with other similarly fascinated readers.

Although I couldn't get the hang of Wallace's fiction, I flipped over his essays, especially as contained in the collection A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. We saw Wallace read at a Barnes & Noble in New York when Supposedly Fun Thing came out in paperback. I'm glad I had a chance to shake his hand and thank him for his work as he autographed my copy.

Allan has multiple copies of Jest, in various editions, including a first printing with a famous typo, and the identical first printing, autographed, which I bought for him in an infamously redundant birthday gift. There I was crowing about how I finally managed a birthday surprise of the caliber he always pulled off for me... only to be greeted by a quizzical look, and "Why did you get me this? I already have it."

First one to tell me that now the book is "worth something" gets banned for life.

This is very sad.

For Allan, it's a kind of personal loss. When there is anyone - an artist, writer, musician, athlete, anyone - whose work has meant a lot to you for a long time, and they die - especially if they are young - it hurts in a strangely and deeply personal way.

David Foster Wallace was a year younger than me, and a year older than Allan. I think we both feel it that way, too.

6 comments:

redsock said...

Wow. This is great. Thank you.

one might say obsession

Well, I do own 7 (or is it 8?) copies of Jest.

L-girl said...

New York Times obit

An appraisal by Michiko Kakutani

redsock said...

Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune:

I profiled him for the Tribune back in early 1996 when his brilliant, prescient 1,000-plus-page novel "Infinite Jest" was being hailed as a masterwork.
Wallace, who grew up in Urbana, was teaching at Illinois State University in Normal at the time and was wary of what all of the acclaim might do to him.
He told me that after his first burst of fame that followed the publication of his debut novel, "The Broom of the System" (1987), and the short-story collection "Girl With Curious Hair" (1989), he'd entered a hospital and asked to be put on suicide watch.
"In a weird way it seemed like there was something very American about what was going on, that things were getting better and better for me in terms of all the stuff I thought I wanted, and I was getting unhappier and unhappier," he said.

***

Ted Gioia really nails what was so magnificent about IJ and Wallace's writing in general:

Few writers have ever been better at delivering scintillating prose, sentence after sentence, without ever seeming to run dry. ...
Infinite Jest is not just an exercise in dazzling prose. Wallace crafted one of the more profound works of fiction of our time, an exposé of the follies and foibles of post-modern life. ... This is one of the most sober (in more than one sense of the word) novels you will ever read, and also one of the funniest. The novel is also loaded with irony, but also one of the most caustic critiques of irony.

***

mike w said...

Man, weird how hearing the news about a guy I didn't took the wind out of my sails.

Terrible news.

L-girl said...

This also from Allan:

Bruce Weber, NYT

Mr. Wallace's father, James Donald Wallace, said in an interview on Sunday that his son had been severely depressed for a number of months.

His father said Sunday that Mr. Wallace had been taking medication for depression for 20 years and that it had allowed his son to be productive. It was something the writer didn't discuss, though in interviews he gave a hint of his haunting angst.

James Wallace said that last year his son had begun suffering side effects from the drugs and, at a doctor's suggestion, had gone off the medication in June 2007. The depression returned, however, and no other treatment was successful. The elder Wallaces had seen their son in August, he said.

"He was being very heavily medicated," he said. "He'd been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn't stand it anymore."

redsock said...

I posted something to my blog, as well.