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D. T. Max’s David Foster Wallace is a person, not an idea

Owen Egger, Special Events Editor

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This is a book about experience. It’s a book exploring an incredibly gifted writer not for the virtue of gifted writing, but for his humanity.”

D. T. Max, staff writer of The New Yorker, began research soon after David Foster Wallace’s death in 2008 for what would be published in 2012 as the most comprehensive biography of Wallace’s life. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace is the first explorative look into the life of Wallace, a writer whose works include Infinite Jest and the nonfiction collections Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.

Max’s approach to Every Love Story is a Ghost Story is a responsible one; he steers clear of the Kurt Cobain-esque aspects of Wallace’s image and instead focuses on the mundane, honest events of his life. Interspersed in the journalistic narrative of Wallace’s travels from New York to Claremont through Boston, Arizona, Illinois, and Syracuse are explorations on Wallace’s desire to revert what he saw as the major problem of modern fiction.

Wallace’s struggle against irony and what he saw as overly-convoluted writing in contemporary fiction are the crux of Max’s exploration of the writer’s life. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story stands on its own as Max’s prose observes and reflects on more so than it dissects Wallace’s writing philosophy.

And that’s the real strength of this biography. Max is not attempting to psychoanalyze Wallace, he is not attempting to pull some thesis from the writer’s experiences. In a way that is both simple and articulate in a language characteristic of Wallace, Max brings to life the growth and development of the writer through his experiences.

Why read it in high school if Wallace’s struggles with depression, drugs, and creativity all took place during his adult life? Because the humanity, honesty, and person of David Foster Wallace are present in these pages. There absolutely is something in Wallace’s works and ideas that everyone can identify with on some level.

This is a book about experience. It’s a book exploring an incredibly gifted writer not for the virtue of gifted writing, but for his humanity. Wallace is not an ideal or even a figure to Max. This book is about a human, his beliefs, and his works.

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
By D. T. Max
368 pp. Penguin Books. $10.75

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D. T. Max’s David Foster Wallace is a person, not an idea