Sunday, September 14, 2008


David Foster Wallace is dead at 46.

My feelings about his writing have always been, I admit, clouded by my jealousy: though my age, Wallace was smarter, more talented, more knowledgeable, and more successful than I. Nevertheless, he could have been better still, more disciplined, less derivative; I knew it, and now I'm afraid he did, too.

My guess? He had the writer's disease -- perfectionism -- so that whatever heights he scaled, they were never high enough, what he wrote never good enough. No doubt he struggled with depression most of his adult life (the episode in the mental ward we now know about, if we didn't before) ... but it shouldn't have ended this way. I'm so sorry to hear this news. DFW was among the most admired writers of his generation, and it wasn't enough for him. That's depression, not narcissism, and it killed him. (Don't let it take you the same way -- even if it means giving up writing. I speak from experience on this one.)

Weirdly, in the week leading up to Wallace's death, I received a statistically unlikely number of submissions to The King's English from fans who cited him as one of their favorite writers. Usually, authors submitting to the journal choose from a broad and eclectic band of authors, but not this week. This week, it was evenly divided between Faulkner's Absalom! Absalom! and David Foster Wallace. Who knows why? It's just a coincidence, but now of course it feels like an anticipatory tribute, so I want to share it. Here's what our authors had to say:

"Best novella? I'm inclined towards Salinger... but truly I have to go with the so way ambitious early work of David Foster Wallace, "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way". It's in his first story collection, Girl with Curious Hair, and it's the high point of the collection. The other is his short story "Little Expressionless Animals," which features Alex Trebec and the silent Merv Griffin as characters. Freaking brilliant." -PR

"Favorite personal essays: David Foster Wallace understands and conveys the complexities of human subjectivity so well, I love when his essays move in the direction of memoir. If his 'Roger Federer as Religious Experience' can be counted as a personal essay, I might call it my favorite. - SFP

"My favorite collection of personal essays is, by far, David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. It's what got me into non-fiction, even though I write nothing like him. The title essay and the one on the state fair are the best." -- KB

RIP, Mr. Wallace.

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