David Foster Wallace is Dead
I came back today from an overnight trip to Virginia to the awful news that the writer David Foster Wallace killed himself Friday night. He was 46 years old.
Wallace was an outstanding essayist and a supremely talented teller of stories who both "knew all the tricks" of postmodern fiction--and invented a few new ones, for that matter--and could create fully realized, emotionally alive characters to weave in and out of his byzantine, incredibly imaginative plots. His 1996 novel "Infinite Jest" featured some of the most brilliant writing I've ever enjoyed. Like Pynchon, DeLillo, Coover, Steve Erickson and David Mitchell, he both inspired me to want to write stories, and deeply intimidated me that I could ever approach that quality of work.
Any reader of Wallace's fiction knew that he had access to some of the darker places of the psyche. While I was reading Infinite Jest in 1996, I was in Chicago on a work assignment, going through a period of acute depression. I reached a section of the book that featured a character's attempted suicide and subsequent institutionalization, and felt amazed, and in some strange way grateful and even comforted, that he could so vividly capture that kind of despair.
Anyone who suffers depression knows that one of its most pernicious effects is the feeling of helpless, terminal aloneness. I felt a bit less alone after reading that part of Infinite Jest; eventually, and always provisionally, I found other ways of managing my depression. I came to the conclusion that aloneness, like most aspects of the human condition, is ambiguous: you're alone, in the most essential sense, but you're not uncared-for, and great comfort can derive from that. (This might be the single best thing about being married, actually.) Perhaps the saddest thing about Wallace taking his own life with so much of it left in front of him is that he couldn't find any comfort to sustain him against the darkness.
Two very worthwhile critical appreciations of David Foster Wallace can be found here and here.