Need a book for the postmodern lit lover in your life?
10 December 2012
I've got a great gift idea for the pomo lit lover in your life: D. T. Max's splendid literary biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace.
Although I've never been able to read Wallace's fiction (for which he is really critically known), I've always been charmed by his nonfiction and I loved his 2005 graduation speech at Kenyon College. Because of the tragedy of his too-early death by suicide, I have always felt somewhat that he must have had a hard life, and I find him interesting.
Max's biography of him is definitely a literary biography--he quotes extensively from his works and really examines what it seems DFW was trying to do in his fiction. He also provides a good look at his influences, the politics of academia, and his relationships and correspondence with other writers, like Jonathan Franzen.
When I read this book, I read it more from the nosy viewpoint of someone who is more curious about his personal life. Although this biography is definitely not "dishy," there is still solid information to learn here about Wallace's family, his beginning struggles with depression and medication in college, and his often troubled relationships with friends and lovers (particularly with Mary Karr).
One particular tidbit that I found really fascinating was his sister's assertion (learning more about his relationship with his sister and parents was one of the more satisfying parts of this read in general), which she said she and her family had often talked about, that Wallace's (and I'm paraphrasing here) nonfiction was whimsical and sometimes a bit exaggerated, while his fiction contained the truths you really had to look out for. Something about that, really, frankly, tickled me. I find that one of the more fascinating aspects of Wallace, not only his writing, but also his personal approach to truth and truth-seeking.
It was a great read, even though, of course, it does not have a happy ending. I'd highly recommend it--and I'm not the only one.