By Chet Yarbrough
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
By: D. T. Max
Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner
Having read “Infinite Jest” several years ago, this reviewer has been mystified by praise given it by many writers, bibliophiles, and book-review’ publications; however, D. T. Max provides some clues to “Infinite Jest’s” seminal value as a new genre of fiction. “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story” explains the tragedy of David Foster Wallace’s life; i.e. his character, ambition, literary evolution, and 2008 death. This is a fascinating biography. Along with details of Wallace’s life, one is re-introduced to “Infinite Jest” and becomes more informed about why it is, and should be, highly regarded.
As reported in the New York Times: “…David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46…” Jonathan Franzen said, Wallace ‘…was a Lifelong prisoner on the island of himself’.1
Max shows Wallace to be a narcissist, particularly in his manic “feeling good” periods of life, but in Max’s review of Wallace’s family history, one is inclined to forgive the narcissism and appreciate the vulnerability of a young artist trying to find himself. (There is a suspicion that one is being seduced by a narcissist’s grand exit to make one feel Wallace’s fiction is greater than it really is but only time will be an adequate judge.)
D. T. Max, the author, works as a staff writer for “The New Yorker”. Dave Eggers, Tom Bissell, and Evan Wright (authors in their own right) say that Max delivers a history of Wallace that is ‘well researched’, ‘hugely disquieting’, and ‘indispensable’ in knowing Wallace and why he will be missed.2 One is inclined to agree with all of the former but may question the last. One wonders if Wallace’s writing will be missed.
If one did not know anything about Wallace before, after listening to “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story”, the uninformed become well-informed. Wallace is a smart, well-educated, heterosexual that drives for literary success with a manic-depressive intensity that is played out in his writing and ended in his suicide.
Wallace’s life is celebrated by academic success, marked by drugs, unhealthy relationships, rehabilitation, and recidivism. At the very least, one is compelled by Max’s biography to give “Infinite Jest” another chance to impress. After re-reading “Infinite Jest”, discounting Wallace’s book may be more a fault of a reader (this critic) than the writer. (Just place computer mouse and press enter over “Infinite Jest” for review.)
1Quote noted in goodreads from Franzen about Wallace.
2Comments summarized from blog entry by dtmax.com.