David Foster Wallace, whose darkly ironic novels, essays and short stories garnered him a large following and made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, was found dead in his California home on Friday, after apparently committing suicide, the authorities said.Anyone who has read this blog or talked to me for any moderately extended period of time knows how much I respected, admired, and enjoyed what Wallace wrote. (And, it should be noted, I just had a really hard time putting that series of verbs towards the end of the last sentence in the past tense.)
I never met DFW, never had any individual contact with him. I thought for a while about adding a line here about how some writers are so talented that each reader feels as if he is being addressed directly, but then I thought that this would sound cheesy, even though I did really feel this way about DFW; I took it out, though, because it misses the point just about as badly as the point has ever been missed. As much as I would like to pretend otherwise, my relationship with writers are never about the writer: I read books for what are ultimately selfish reasons. And my sadness at this suicide falls into this selfish category of sadness also.
I first learned of DFW from the brief book reviews The NYer runs each week, which--this particular issue--was describing his latest book, Consider the Lobster. I decided to pass on the brand-new, hardcover book of a writer I'd never read before, but I bought A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, one of his earlier books which was out in paperback, and, fortunately, cheap enough for me to take a shot on. I knew as I finished that first collection of essays and arguments that I wanted to read everything else that he had written. The more I read of his works, the more I got a sense of the high regard he was held in by almost everyone. But I was most excited because I realized that I had finally found someone to serve as my author. I have loved reading for a really long time, and have appreciated the works of a diverse collection of writers, but DFW was the first one whom I adopted as my all-time favorite. He is the one who was the subject of my first author search when I got the complete The NYer archives. I took special pride in finding him mentioned in P. Geyh's introduction to The Norton Anthology of Postmodern Literature. He was the great author of my generation, whom I discovered in my youth, and who was to help guide me along the next ~30 years of my life.
DFW was never one to conform to expectations.