Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Literary Hero Fallen

I was shocked and sad to read that David Foster Wallace hanged himself on Sept. 12 in his home in California. My feelings, though, don't come from what DFW means to me, but what he means to David. One of the few positive things David's dad passed on to him as a child was a love of books, and from the day I met him, he's always had his nose in one (or two or three). DFW is David's favorite writer, his literary hero, and now not another word will be written by this dazzling talent.

I've never read anything by DFW, and I'm not sure that I ever will, but David was hooked the first time he read some of Wallace's (and Donald Antrim's) work in a fiction edition of the New Yorker several years ago. He laughed out loud for days, and told lots of people about this complex, postmodern, original, and don't forget, funny, writer. David gobbled up Infinite Jest , all with its 1000 plus pages and 100 pages of footnotes, and from then, it seemed, made it a mission to read everything DFW had ever written.

I read about the publishing of DFW's latest collection, Oblivion, even before David did and was thrilled to buy it and give it to him on Christmas Day a few years ago and to see David's genuine surprise and satisfaction with a gift I knew he'd love.

I've read that Wallace's characters are multi-multi-multi-dimensional, zany, incomprehensible, nonsensical and just plain weird. They also lead dark lives full of addiction, suicide, and madness, and one can't help but assume that many of DFW's personal demons came to life for his readers on the page.

Sounds like Wallace was brilliant and that his mind served both as his liberator and captor. Who knows what made him kill himself, but it's scary to digest when it happens to someone who you identify with, whose complex characters you identify with, who you consider a genius with words and thoughts, and who you assumed had it together enough to keep this type of tragedy at bay.

I'm the one who broke the news to David, just hours ago as I read it online. In that first moment of shock and awe, trying to make sense of losing someone who's meant so much to you, David said something that I interpreted as, gosh if that can happen to someone as talented and smart as he was, what's to keep the rest of us with similar personal demons from sharing the same fate? To make us both feel better, I said, "David, don't worry, you're not that smart."

I'm so sorry for your loss, David, I really am.

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