Friday, October 5, 2012

New Biography About David Foster Wallace Sheds Light on Author's Life


For fans of author David Foster Wallace, his death in 2008 came as a surprise. Knowing that he isn't around to create characters like Hal, Mario and Avril Incandenza, Don Gately, and Joelle Van Dyne and knowing that he will never pen another novel makes The New Yorker writer D.T. Max's biography of Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, all the more valuable, as it may one of the last glimpses we have into Wallace's brilliant mind.

In the book, Max provides exhaustively detailed accounts of Wallace's precocious childhood, his desire to please his grammar instructor mother, his struggles with mental health, alcohol and drugs, his successes in his time as a student in high school and at Amherst, and his struggles as a writer.

The biography depicts Wallace as a man who was prodigious, which led to an early over confidence, but which as he aged and struggled through rehabilitation programs changed to what seemed a genuine humility. He began to change his views about literature, shedding some of the rebellious style exhibited in his first novel, The Broom of the System, which was written as his senior thesis as an undergraduate and published when he was 23.

His humanity, sense of humor, compassion, and ultimate humility is most prevalent in his final two novels, Infinite Jest (his magnum opus, regarded by many as a masterpiece of contemporary literature) and The Pale King (his posthumous publication, unfinished when he died and pieced together from the manuscript pages and notes he left behind). In both of these works, there is an underlying spirit and sense of morality that is not present in The Broom of The System or in his first short story collection, Girl With Curious Hair.

Wallace's progression as both a writer and man is exhibited in Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, offering glimpses into what changed him, how he changed the literary world, and how he was viewed by contemporaries, by his students, and, most tragically, by himself. In 2008, at the age of 46, Wallace hanged himself in his California home.

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story was released on Aug. 30, 2012 and, drawing from interviews with family, friends, students, colleagues and acquaintances as well as from Wallace's papers, which are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas, it provides perhaps the most extensive account of Wallace's life to date.

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