Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

D.T. Max

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

In his lifetime, David Foster Wallace was lauded by critics and loved by fans. But even to those who had barely read his work, he was something of a cult figure. Since his suicide in 2008, Wallace has become the Kurt Cobain of the printed word, and his life and death now stand as symbols of a generation's hopes and their despair. In this compelling account of Wallace's evolution from anxious adolescent into post-modern anti-hero, D. T. Max will speak to those who knew him intimately and those who were drawn to him from afar to tell the story of a man struggling to write authentically about "what it is to be a fucking human being" against the frenetic noise of modern life and the cavernous void of American culture. This is a story of drugs and depression, of madness and creativity intertwined, of a man who felt profoundly lost but still found a way to capture this lostness in words and hold it defiantly aloft, like a flag for his generation. 4.6 out of 5 based on 9 reviews
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Literary Studies & Criticism
Format Hardback
Pages 272
RRP
Date of Publication September 2012
ISBN 978-1847084941
Publisher Granta
 

In his lifetime, David Foster Wallace was lauded by critics and loved by fans. But even to those who had barely read his work, he was something of a cult figure. Since his suicide in 2008, Wallace has become the Kurt Cobain of the printed word, and his life and death now stand as symbols of a generation's hopes and their despair. In this compelling account of Wallace's evolution from anxious adolescent into post-modern anti-hero, D. T. Max will speak to those who knew him intimately and those who were drawn to him from afar to tell the story of a man struggling to write authentically about "what it is to be a fucking human being" against the frenetic noise of modern life and the cavernous void of American culture. This is a story of drugs and depression, of madness and creativity intertwined, of a man who felt profoundly lost but still found a way to capture this lostness in words and hold it defiantly aloft, like a flag for his generation.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Reviews

The Independent

Archie Bland

... a nuanced, deeply reported and fiercely sad book ... he moves the popular statue of Wallace out of the way and replaces it with a smaller, truer monument: one that portrays a much less straightforwardly endearing man than the Saint Dave of the devotee's imagination, but reveres him none the less.

15/09/2012

Read Full Review


The Literary Review

Sam Leith

[When DFW died, what] was already a more than usually cultish following for a living American writer entered, as the publication puff for this biography vulgarly boasts, the territory of a Kurt Cobain or a James Dean. A biography of this sort, then, is to be greeted with caution. More often than not, any such writer's first biographer — so soon after the fact, under the presumed pressure to publish as quickly as possible — will make a hash of things. D T Max does not. Barring the odd organisational clumsiness, this is a fine piece of work: detailed yet economical, shrewd and subtle about the writing, and detached enough about the life to make clear, from time to time, that this candidate for secular sainthood could also be a jerk.

01/09/2012

Read Full Review


The Observer

Benjamin Markovits

Max has written the book before his subject's literary reputation has had a chance to settle, but the biography itself feels fresh rather than hurried. You get the painful sense of a life that should still have been in progress. One problem with literary biographies is that their subjects tend to analyse themselves better than their biographers can. Max solves this by mining Wallace's own work, particularly Infinite Jest, for sophisticated expressions of the author's mental states. The technique not only brings Wallace to life, it brings the work into play as well. As it happens, Max is a very smart writer himself and has managed to write the biography without falling in love or out of love with his subject.

15/09/2012

Read Full Review


The Times

David Baddiel

Very, very good ... Every Love Story is a Ghost Story is relatively discreet about the details of Foster Wallace’s eventual suicide, but I’m not sure I’ve read anything that makes the deep structural reasons for a suicide so apparent. In one of many fascinating throwaway details, Max tells of a car journey with the novelist Jonathan Franzen, where “Franzen was amazed at how much wiper fluid his friend used”. But I wonder how amazing this is: Foster Wallace as a person seems to have been much like his own description of his non-fiction technique, “basically an enormous eyeball floating around something, reporting what it sees”, and it doesn’t surprise me therefore that he couldn’t bear to have an unclean windscreen. Foster Wallace was afflicted, possessed by seeing, by noticing, and herein lies both his genius and the source of his terrible depression.

15/09/2012

Read Full Review


The Sunday Times

Robert Collins

Tremendous … A staff writer on The New Yorker, Max is too elegant a biographer to overegg how terrible Wallace could be and how much his behaviour might have been rooted in something nefarious in his family’s past. Instead, the evidence is simply, and devastatingly, left on view in this supremely understated and magnificently comprehensive life of a remarkable writer.

16/09/2012

Read Full Review


The New York Times

Michiko Kakutani

... an emotionally detailed portrait of the artist as a young man … Though the reader may not agree with all of Mr. Max’s assessments of Wallace’s novels and short stories, he does an insightful job of chronicling the development of Wallace’s ideas and narrative strategies, from his Pynchonian debut novel The Broom of the System through his magnum opus Infinite Jest and his unfinished manuscript of The Pale King.

22/08/2012

Read Full Review


The Independent on Sunday

Thomas Leveritt

Flowing, affecting, meticulously researched … In the end, this book is the story of a man who sat in rooms writing, and as Wallace himself says at one point, "Who'd read that?" Nonetheless, there's a lot that's telling about the wider US landscape in here: the fact that on graduation, he realised that he needed to go to grad school to get a qualification to get a teaching job to get health insurance to get the prescriptions for his antidepressants. Also telling: the astonishing amount he was prescribed. These things are not discussed; at this point, mood-altering medication is just background noise in American letters. Nor is the possibility that his depression was exacerbated by his teenage marijuana use discussed. Nor the possibility that his depression was exacerbated by feeding his brain little but itself.

16/09/2012

Read Full Review


The Financial Times

Jason Cowley

[A] scrupulous and affecting biography … As Max reveals, Wallace collected pathologies. He was addicted to alcohol (he was forced to become teetotal), marijuana, tobacco (which he smoked, chewed and spat), television, even sex ... He once wondered aloud to his friend Jonathan Franzen whether his purpose in life was “to put my penis in as many vaginas as possible”. “Sex,” says Max, “filled a place in Wallace that nothing else could.”

14/09/2012

Read Full Review


The Guardian

Ned Beauman

Unshowy but diligent, thoughtful and interesting ... The biggest problem with this biography is perhaps that it works too well as an advertisement for the volume of collected correspondence that I hope will one day be published. As Max notes, his subject "may have been the last great letter writer in literature", and it is absolutely no derogation of Max's own abilities to say that for any given sentence he writes in this book, one would prefer to have another sentence of Wallace's. When Max uses an ellipsis to condense a fascinating letter from Wallace to his editor Michael Pietsch about his reasons for using endnotes in Infinite Jest, one wants to snarl at him as if he were a waiter clearing away a plate we hadn't finished.

01/09/2012

Read Full Review


©2013 The Omnivore