Sad Boy Emo Biography
*Starred Review* As endlessly interpretable writer David Foster Wallace’s first biographer, New Yorker staff writer Max seeks to be foundational. His straight-ahead approach corrals the commotion of Wallace’s struggle with his epic artistic visions, substance abuse, and severe depression into an involving, fast-flowing narrative rich in facts and free of speculation. So seamless is Max’s reportage that one loses sight of how many sources he consulted to fully chronicle young Illinoisan Wallace’s inherited passions for language and philosophy, spectacular academic achievements, self-medication with pot and alcohol, chaotic relationships, teaching gigs, and sustaining alliances with his agent, editors, guiding light Don DeLillo, and friend Jonathan Franzen. Max presents meticulous coverage of off-the-charts-smart Wallace’s literary intentions and innovations, from his impressive early first book, The Broom of the System (1987), to his nonfiction escapades to the bludgeoning demands of his masterpiece, Infinite Jest (1996), and The Pale King (2011), the brilliant novel this MacArthur fellow left unfinished when he committed suicide, in 2008, at age 46, at which point this biography abruptly concludes. Max’s thorough account of Wallace’s breakdowns, stints in psychiatric institutions and a halfway house, and profound reliance on support groups reveals the conviction and risks inherent in Wallace’s mission to write with integrity, humor, sincerity, and artistic incandescence and to make “the head throb heartlike.” --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
All my adult reading life, I waited for a young contemporary writer to transport me to the prose-rich playgrounds of Nabokov and Pynchon. ADA and GRAVITY'S RAINBOW were my torches, but they were, arguably, emotionally sterile. When I read INFINITE JEST ten years ago, I knew I had finally found an author who, besides giving words an elastic, carbonated buoyancy, was a vigorously palpable storyteller, altogether tragic and heartbreaking.
I remember the exact moment when I heard that Wallace took his life (as I suspect did everyone who is reading this book, who read DFW before his death). It was like a brother or best friend had died. He was my rock star--my John Lennon, Peter Gabriel, and Bob Dylan all rolled up into literature. He wasn't yesterday's insurgent Kurt Cobain, he was today's voice--the insurrectionist of the insurrection, the anti-ironist and seeker of exigent summits.
D.T. Max evinces respect, compassion, and objectivity toward this now lionized author he has never met, in his biography assembled from the contributions of friends, family, lovers, AA comrades, colleagues, fellow writers, and epistolary confidants.
"Fiction is what it's like to be a f*****g human being," Wallace said, and Max shows us the utter turbulence of this writer's life, a man who lived inveterately with the howling fantods (a phrase from his mother, the grammarian, used potently in INFINITE JEST).
David was a depressed, addicted, chaotic genius, a man who felt that he never lived up to his lofty ambitions as a writer or a person. He was both fascinated and repulsed by the TV culture and how media hijacks and propagandizes public and private minds--his constant themes in his essays, short stories, and of course, IJ.Read more ›
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46 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Compelling, Hard to put down.
By Heather on September 4, 2012
I found this biography to be compelling, well written and meticulously researched by D.T. Max. There are so many intimate details about David Foster Wallace's life that it was like reading personal journals. I thought that the author remained for the most part nonjudgemental and objective.
There were two areas that I found not clearly explained or explored. One was Wallace's relationship with his Mother. The second was Wallace's relationship with the writer Mary Karr. The level of rage allegedly exhibited by Wallace towards Mary Karr despite the fact that he is clean, sober and on antidepressants is baffling to me. Did he really try to throw Mary Karr out of a moving vehicle? It is one bit of information that without a police report and witnesses I felt could have been left out of the story.
The biography is well paced. Although I knew at the beginning that David Foster Wallace would commit suicide, I did not know what event(s) would push him over the edge. Without giving away the final scenes of the book, it was not what I expected.
Writers, people in recovery, people familiar with severe depression and those who have admired David Foster Wallace's work, including countless students he taught over the years will glean much insight from this biography. Wallace's wisdom grew with his sobriety. One cannot help but like him and feel great compassion towards him. It made me wish I had known him and had the opportunity to take one of his courses.
This is one of the best biographies I have ever read.
Note to D.T. Max: In your footnotes, Chapter 5, 26. It should read "Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink." We alcoholics could never stop with just one.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A Bio That Delivers (w/ 2 small objections)
By Mrs. Wendell on December 10, 2012
Biographies of famous people aspire to insightfulness. They often end up becoming workmanlike as the story catches up to information we already know. That's not a criticism. It's probably a necessity for cradle to the grave bios. Walter Isaacson's great "Steve Jobs" bio starts with a blast of fresh information and settles into a march of familiar products: behind-the-scenes with the ipod, itunes, the iphone, the ipad, etc. "Every Story" is workmanlike too, and a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff works well, especially to fans of Infinite Jest and those familiar with Wallace's cagey and fabulist interview persona. Surprising to me was how autobiographical IJ is--something I probably sensed (but naively discounted because Wallace said it wasn't so) and can now confirm. He didn't just create the rehab experience from dropping in on a few Boston AA meetings, as he suggested in interviews. He lived it. Much of Max's biography, to its credit, is unflinching. Wallace could be callous toward women, did insane things for them, slept with an underage girl, supposedly bought a gun to kill one infatuation's husband, tried to kill himself many times, hit rock bottom many times, threw snowballs at kids (when he was a kid), was sometimes a bully and vindictive toward students. One thing that softens the experience of reading about Wallace I think is that we know where we're heading--clinical depression and suicide. We're braced for the worst. And we certainly get it. I have two complaints, or "issues," with Max's biography.Read more ›