What is one to do with David Foster Wallace? As much as I admire his writing style, his self-effacing humility, and his frequent brilliance, I have never quite connected to the man’s work. Like many in my generation, I have read a few of his essays and short stories. I have even made a few vain attempts at reading his magnum opus, the door-stopping Infinite Jest. But he lived in a strange other-place where reality is so complex as to lack any simple, unifying principles. It was so terrifyingly despairing that one can barely pull back from the brink. The first Wallace short story I ever read was “Incarnations of Burned Children.” It was almost my last.
All this came to mind after seeing the new trailer for upcoming biopic The End of the Tour, featuring Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg as his interviewer.
Mr. Wallace was a north star for many lost young men and women of my generation. They were attracted to his compassion and to his apparent insight into the reality of our distorted existence. Was he a post-modernist guru? A cliched reclusive genius? A novelist disguised as a surfer dude? A Hemingway obsessed with cleaning his shotgun?
David Foster Wallace the author is difficult to enjoy, but David Foster Wallace the man is impossible to hate. Even a casual fan like myself felt a long-lasting and numbing anxiety upon hearing of his suicide. By hanging himself from his patio rafter, he joined the company of Virginia Woolf, Walter M. Miller, Jr., and Ernest Hemingway in the group of authors who made their own way out of this world. It is a dubious company, indeed.
I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning?