09.22.08

Good-bye, DFW

Posted in Events, Writers at 5:33 pm by Marion

It’s good to be back in Fiction Dailyland, but my return entry today is devoted to remembering writer David Foster Wallace who died last week.

david_foster_wallace.jpg

Notice of his passing was first listed almost an afterthought on news Web sites. Soon, the story was given larger billing — as it should have.

Contemporary writers come and go just as quickly as Flavors of the Month. That’s why I’m fond of very very few contemporary writers (Paul Auster, if you’re reading, I’m a huge fan). There are some I know personally, some who have attained a little or even a lot of so-called success. What a writer calls success, however, is often a painful journey. The most important thing for a writer, the breath in our lungs, the beat in our chest, is putting words together. As long as we can do that, we are alive. When we can’t any longer, when we lose the spark, the fire, we are miserable.

Sometimes we mistake fame for love (which most writers crave). We’re also fairly ego-centric, but in a largely benign way. We’re just as likely to despise as deify ourselves.

Into the swirling world of fame, fortune, publishing and academic back-stabbing came David Foster Wallace. He’s probably best known for his 1996 opus “Infinite Jest,” which has more than 1,000 pages.

I first came to know DFW through an article in Harper’s Magazine describing, in his demented take, an ocean cruise. It was later published as “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” His writing was unlike anything I’d read by those living writers who these days are churned out in university MFA-writing programs. They write about campus, they write about writers. They write about having affairs with professors. ZZZZZ.

Not so for DFW. His writing had heft and daring. It declared originality and broke laws, transgressed boundaries and spoke truly, authentically literary. He managed a style that was complex and yet still captivating for the reader; he’s been compared to Thomas Pynchon. He used copious footnotes that would take the reader on strange parallel discussions.

I felt kinship with him the way I do with some writers whose work I really enjoy. It’s personal, writing, and DFW was straightforward — with himself, with his writing goals and with his stories. He wasn’t faking and we knew it. He was a bit unkempt in appearance, the way writers feel most comfortable. He seemed uncomfortable with praise and acclaim.

Wallace died at 46 years old, apparently a suicide by hanging. We will miss you and your footnotes.

2 Comments

  1. Gene-o said,

    September 23, 2008 at 7:23 am

    Welcome back! Your devoted fans, including Paul Auster, have missed you and look forward to hearing about your vacation.

    Thank you for the elegy to a Reputedly Great Writer Whose Work I’ve Never Read (Yet). To lose so original a voice, someone who had attained so much and had so much left to give …

  2. Fiction Daily » Blog Archive » Deep in Thought? said,

    October 8, 2008 at 7:23 am

    […] The CNN article looks at the life and work of David Foster Wallace, a writer who died last month of his own hand. (I am among those who will greatly miss DFW and his work.) […]