I got absorbed last night in a New Yorker essay about David Foster Wallace’s struggle to surpass Infinite Jest.
It had been a while since I had thought about him. When I heard about his suicide last year I was so saddened. For a while, it was all could think about. I read every obituary I could find. Most people said he was an “ironic” writer. But I knew this was wrong. Wallace had a love/hate relationship with cliches. If anything, he tried to point out the hollowness of relying on irony all the time. This was apparent to me even though I had never finished the one book of his I had started.
A couple years ago I started to read Jest, but I had to stop in the middle because it was too intense. Gave me panic attacks and vivid dreams: one where I was reading a passage of the book that didn’t exist in print, another where I was asleep but writing a new part of the book next to my pillow. When you read Infinite Jest, it becomes part of you, all 1,089 pages with footnotes.
When Wallace died I vowed to get through all his books, if nothing more than to pay him tribute. Soon, I had read Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, without leaving with a crushed soul. Both are non-fiction. I especially liked Wallace’s title essay of the latter book. The best part about these essays is that he doesn’t fall prey to his cynicism. He has the balls to have an open mind, even if he knows it will be tough down the road.
One more thing. The only place that seemed to get what Wallace was doing was The Onion. When I read this article shortly after he died, I knew Wallace would have been proud.