The book really needs the letters because of what I wanted to do, because of how much I wanted to get out of the way and let David speak. Not the David who was created for public consumption, not the David of the cruise ship piece, but the real David. Anyone who knows anything about writing or David or anything, that cruise ship piece is a presentation of a personality. It's lovable, and it's actually funny. What's funny to me about those pieces that are so well-loved is that David was on this endless quest not to make his fiction too easy. The original title for Infinite Jest has the subtitle, "A Failed Entertainment." So why does he allow his nonfiction to be so lovable? That's a very lovable piece. David was way smart enough to know that the kid in the cabin was a way lovable character. And he makes it even more lovable by embellishing it.

D.T. Max is a staff writer at the New Yorker.
D.T. Max is a staff writer at the New Yorker.


D.T. Max in conversation with Rachel Syme
Monday, September 17
7 p.m.
92YTribeca, sponsored by McNally Jackson
200 Hudson Street

Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
356 pages

You did a Q&A for the New Yorker following your original article and wrote, "Some suicides seemed destined but I never felt this was true of Wallace." After researching and finishing the book, do you still believe that?
That's a good question. I believe it less. Looking at the whole life now, the decision to be a writer and what it cost him, a decision he takes when he's 23 or 24. His decision to be a writer comes out of a breakdown, and it was always tied closely to his mental health. In retrospect, I'm not sure that David thought he could live without fiction. He toyed around with it. He talked about doing other things with his wife Karen Green, opening a dog shelter, what have you, being a nonfiction writer. I think he even toyed with being a speechwriter for Obama. But now, with the fullness of these letters and the interviews and the long, careful view of his life, can I imagine him growing old and still suffering with Pale King but happy in the rest of his life? Going to that garage every day to work, put in eight hours to try and push this dog along, but then take on a nonfiction piece because he knows he can do it, and yet never dissolving into self-hatred? Not really. Not really. I think that in the fuller knowledge of what I know now... Pre-destined is a strong word, but something like it is probably right. A betting man or woman would've bet that something bad would happen. It's an enormous tragedy all the same, and "I saw it coming," that's a little stiff for me. I don't think his friends thought he would grow old. Maybe they did when they met Karen.

D.T. Max will participate in a Q&A with Rachel Syme at 92YTribeca on Monday, September 17 at 7 p.m.
« Previous Page