There is a fact that when an entertainer or artist passes away that their work goes into demand. We’ve seen this with many people from Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Jerry Garcia, etc. The same can be said for authors; I remember the rush on Salinger when they announced he had passed—Vonnegut was another author that I can remember a rush on after the announcement of his passing. There has been one author that I have found interesting in his death years: David Foster Wallace. While there has been a genuine interest in his work, it hasn’t been at the levels of the well-known writer when one of them pasess away. It seems that people are slowly stumbling upon his work.
If you aren’t familiar with David Foster Wallace or any of his writings, here’s what you need to know.
David Foster Wallace was a very clever, articulate, and fascinating individual in the sense of his writing and imagination; he contributed to publications such as Harper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, Playboy, GQ, and Esquire. He wrote very provocative pieces on a whole range of subjects; he wrote pieces on things such as a porno convention, his time following John McCain in the 2000 campaign and primaries for the Republican nomination, many articles, essays, and themes in his novels about tennis (a sport he loved and followed religiously), and many other articles that showed his versatility and interest in a whole range of subjects.
My experience with reading David Foster Wallace’s works of fiction is that you read the back of the book for a description; when you start reading the story, it's nothing that you expected or understood from that back cover; you can’t believe what is being thrown at you and where the story goes. His non-fiction work is exactly the same; it's funny, serious, frightening, and it's all true. The one thing that I have found to be an annoying feature to his work is his obsessive-compulsive use of the MLA writing format. There are some pages in his books that are entirely in-text MLA format citations, and long extensive notes within the citations that can be entertaining to read, or you eventually just start to find them a pain in the ass and start skipping over them entirely.
The Broom of the System was his fiction debut. It received a lot of critical acclaim, and he was branded as one of the best new writers upon its release in 1987. My response to that book was that it felt like John Hughes movie, a William S. Burroughs novel, a David Lynch film, and some real slapstick humor all rolled up into one. David Foster Wallace’s ability to channel some of Thomas Pynchon’s writing ideas and yet keep the reader fascinated is something that most authors are probably jealous of when it comes to Wallace’s brilliance. He went on to write another critically acclaimed novel, Infinite Jest, that goes the same route of The Broom of the System in writing style.
If you desire to read some smart reading that goes beyond the works of David Sedaris or Chuck Klosterman, his essays and articles also show his brilliance. The one essay of his that gave us a look into his compassionate personality was in a collection called Consider the Lobster; his essay about the events of 9/11 and how he spent his time dealing with it during and after as he watched our country become transformed is a look into how the artistic and sensitive soul viewed the events of that horrific day.
His versatility and time as a reporter made another work of fiction of his become one of his most well known works, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. The book features interviews with fictional characters; interviews with demented individuals that have fascinations with the darkest of things. It’s a look into the philosophy of wickedness, and even douchebaggery goes under the microscope.
The death of David Foster Wallace was indeed a tragic end. It’s sad to think that a writer with the tremendous gift of writing and the ability to teach writing to others would take his own life. David Foster Wallace’s suicide was a result of his lifelong clinical depression that he took anti-depressant medication for that gave him the foundation for his productive life. While suffering severe side-effects of his medication, he weaned off of it and then found himself severely depressed; he went back on his medication and also tried other methods of treatment that were unsuccessful, which led to his suicide on September 12, 2008.
In April of 2011, Wallace’s unfinished novel, The Pale King, was released. The novel deals with the life of an employee of the Internal Revenue Service taking the same strange turns as the events surround the characters in his previous novels. There are also themes of depression and despair; obviously subjects that David Foster Wallace was dealing with at time he was writing it. I've read some criticisms about how it was published as an unfinished novel, while others have praised it. I have yet to read it, and I hope to find the time to read it sometime soon.
While David Foster Wallace is an acquired taste, I think everyone could find some enjoyable reading from his works. If you can’t get into his fiction, I suggest checking out his essay collections. If you enjoy the works of Pynchon, Kafka, or Burroughs, you’ll definitely love David Foster Wallace. David Foster Wallace cracked our minds open to the idea of having a sense of irony when viewing the world around us; he made us think differently about how we interpret art; and he’s also one of the last great writers that is truly irreplaceable.
“The problem is that once the rules of art are debunked, and once the unpleasant realities the irony diagnoses are revealed and diagnosed, "then" what do we do?” – David Foster Wallace