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

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3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  4,267 ratings  ·  686 reviews
David Foster Wallace was the leading literary light of his generation, a man who not only captivated readers with his prose but also mesmerized them with his brilliant mind. In this, the first biography of the writer, D. T. Max sets out to chart Wallace’s tormented, anguished, and often triumphant battle to succeed as a novelist as he fights off depression and addiction to ...more
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Published August 30th 2012 by Brilliance Audio
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Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story is the book we did not want written or published in 2012, no more than we wanted “An Unfinished Novel” in 2011. No one should be happy that we have a biography of David Foster Wallace. But its publication was inevitable. And some of us are compelled to purchase it, read it, and object to its existence.

For those of us who have followed Wallace these past two decades, D.T. Max’s book is one part refresher of what we already know from Wallace’s books and interviews
...more
Moira Russell
Yeah, this was just. Terrible. I don't even really have any smartassed thing left to say here after the inchoate spew of status updates - it was just sort of depressing to read the last anemic thirty pages or so. It's a little heartbreaking how very terrible this was. The NYorker article was great (its Q&A wasn't: a possible warning?). His participation in the Lipsky round table was great. I was really looking forward to this book. I was disappointed by the excerpt but thought, maybe that wa ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
All my adult reading life, I waited for a young contemporary writer to transport me to the prose-rich playgrounds of Nabokov and Pynchon. ADA and GRAVITY'S RAINBOW were my torches, but they were, arguably, emotionally sterile. When I read INFINITE JEST ten years ago, I knew I had finally found an author who, besides giving words an elastic, carbonated buoyancy, was a vigorously palpable storyteller, altogether tragic and heartbreaking.

I remember the exact moment when I heard that Wallace took hi
...more
Stephen M
An excerpt from one of DFW's first undergraduate stories entitled "The Sabrina Brothers in the Case of the Hung Hamster", a post-modern spoof on a Hardy Boys-type novel:

"Suddenly a sinister, twin-engined airplane came into view, sputtering and back-firing. It lost power and began spinning in toward the hill. It was heading right for the brothers!

Luckily at the last minute the plane ceased to exist.

'Crikey!' exclaimed Joe. 'It's a good thing we're characters in a highly implausible children's bo
...more
Christopher
Outline for review of D.T. Max's Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace


I. Introduction

A. Witty opening line. Grab everyone's attention.

B. Thesis statement: There is no reason to read this book.



II. Body ¶1: My thoughts on/knowledge of DFW pre-this book.

A. He was a tortured genius, suffering from major depression.

i) Among other personality maladies - crippling anxiety.

B. His brilliant novel Infinite Jest has influenced everything I've read since I read it six months ago
...more
Lee
A complicated chap, this DFW: capable of Aspbergian selfishness and more than semi-noxious competitiveness, an explicitly excellent writer who posits concern for readers yet nevertheless once dropped from a great height "Mr. Squishy" upon our poor heads, an arch-grammarian thanks to his mom capable of making usage stuff look like calculations intended to trap infinity in a jar, maybe sort of a wonky weany despite his size and high-protein breakfast vomit, apparently helpless around the house bey ...more
Cheryl
"BEWARE WHEN THE GREAT GOD LETS LOOSE A THINKER ON THIS PLANET. THEN ALL THINGS ARE AT RISK." Ralph Waldo Emerson

D.T. Max has written a biography of David Foster Wallace that avoids the usual bookends of ancestors and the aftermath of his death. Instead, in three hundred pages, the story of the gifted author's life is told from confessions of his contemporaries, writings from his notebooks, and well researched information from his employment decisions to his episodes in rehab. This reads like a
...more
MJ Nicholls
Workmanlike as predicted. Spits out the facts at warp speed nine. Main problem is it fails to render the aliveness of DFW or communicate the charisma of the man and his works. His life is depicted in terms of its struggles and suggests DFW inhabited a gloom-filled realm even in the moments when success and sex and productivity came his way, all of which were more abundant than the depressions and drug abuse. A bio of this superhuman writer should be grandiose and as abundant in ambition and scop ...more
Geoff
DT Max has provided us with a chronological, journalistic, utilitarian, somewhat slight but ultimately satisfying biography-lens through which we can peer at a certain David Foster Wallace. The other lenses through which we can observe our refracted fellow are his own writings, his interviews, the many pieces and remembrances to emerge about the man himself since his death. Each one will give us a different Wallace; if Citizen Kane taught us nothing else it was that those speaking of others can ...more
Juan
This biography, useful as it is in providing some needed context, feels flimsy.

The most obvious missing piece in this bio is an exploration of David Wallace's relationship to his mother. It is quite clear even from Max's work that this relationship was central both to who David Wallace was and to the stylistic and thematic choices in his work. The difficulty of such an endeavor is clear. In unveiling whatever that relationship might have been like, Max risked offending Wallace's family, a risk t
...more
Lori
I am a huge fan of David Foster Wallace -- the person who tried, so hard. His books were not necessarily my favorites, but something about him pulled at me. I've read everything I can find about him, every interview, every article, including the New Yorker article by D. T. Max. I bought this book as soon as I heard about it, pre-ordered it, and was thrilled the morning it was automatically delivered to my kindle. Couldn't wait.

And this was the most shallow, trivial biography I could imagine. I g
...more
Richard
I guess I was hoping for something more rigorous. Facts and life changes are just sort of thrown out there. There's no real analysis or thoughtfulness of the kind you get out of a good biography. It reads like a decent enough, well researched, magazine profile that's been squished under a rolling pin to stretch out to three hundred pages. There were elements that felt sort of trashy and airporty, as no random hookup or binge goes unreported. There's a "...and then guess what...and then guess wha ...more
Grace Liew
Best parts of the book by far are the flurries of DFW's quotes copied wholesale, albeit they still suffer from DT Max's flimsy attempts to give context. The book wades only in shallow waters and rickety theories, with no cutting insights whatsoever. Why did DT Max even write this, then?

Another reviewer already said very succinctly my overall impression of this book: it reads like a long wikipedia article. Personally, I'm a huge wiki fan. I wiki all sorts of shit. I glean biographies of my favori
...more
Adam Floridia
How can you write a true biography, a biography that really captures a human's whole life, or even just "the important" parts of it, and still moves smoothly from one important event to another?

Rhetorical question. I don't have the answer. D.T. Max certainly doesn't have the answer either. DFW once wrote about how impossible it would be to even accurately capture the infinite stimuli of a fleeting moment, so I don't envy the charge that a biographer takes on.

Here are a few things I really didn'
...more
Webster Bull
Now that I've finished the first major biography of the author of Infinite Jest, I have reduced my rating from 5 stars to 4.

First, if my previous posts don't make this clear, I am a big fan of David Foster Wallace. My daughter has just agreed to read it with me, in a two-person one-book kind of club, and I am thrilled. It will be roughly my 4th read-through. "Roughly" because I dip into it even when not reading it. I'll review the novel here when I finish reading it again.

But the biography: a b
...more
Hadrian
Damn. It's hard to believe that DFW passed four years ago, and that there will Never Be Any More.

It might be humorous, in some darkly comic sense, that this is an unfinished biography as an appendage to an unfinished life. But there is little else that is comic about the book. Max, to his credit, uncovers the very real and human aspects of DFW's life. There are some interesting musings on mental illness, and DFW's own struggle for accepting himself. Max does not glamorize the struggle of mental
...more
Adam
A basically very good intellectual biography, if critically dubious at times, but also filled with unnecessary amounts of detail re DFW's personal life, which sadly is probably what is getting this book to sell as well as it seems to be.

We knew enough about DFW's personal life (depression, addiction, major relationships, etc) before this book came out. All I found out from this book were some personal details about DFW that were of interest to me in that I related to them/was to some extent hap
...more
Eileen
So... I didn't purchase this book because I read a clip on amazon.com and hated the writing style, and when I read the reviews on the site, they backed me up.

I HATE HATE HATE the way this author writes. Terse, declarative sentence after terse, declarative sentence, it feels like it was written by a sixth grader. Just awful. In addition, it doesn't make sense in parts. In explaining how DFW and his college roommate are different, he mentions that DFW's roommate "doesn't even drink." But literally
...more
Max
Mixed feelings about this. D.T. definitely did his homework, and I'm glad someone took the time to follow up on all the loose strands DFW left behind, because one of the most interesting things about this book is finding out the extent to which DFW misrepresented and exaggerated aspects of his life in his published work (and even in his correspondence).

Still, this book has a distinctly rushed-to-press feeling, especially in the second half. The book revolves around Infinite Jest (much like DFW's
...more
Katherine
this book was kind of all-consuming. even when i wasn't reading it, i was thinking about reading it, as well as DFW's life, so I was existing in a constant state of rumination until i finished it. a lot is revealed here: Franzen's and his friendship being was really more of an epistolary one than an actual in-the-flesh relationship, DFW's terror at the sense of responsibility, perhaps even obligation, that comes with enormous talent, and his extreme and brutalizing second-guessing. reading this ...more
Margaret

I don’t usually read literary biographies as a way to reenter a text (in this case, DFW’s Infinite Jest) that my serious reading self thinks I ought to keep reading but that my hedonistic reading self keeps placing a bit lower on my perpetually shifting “to read” list. But that is exactly what I did here. Taking along my copy of Infinite Jest, I went to hear D.T. Max be interviewed by Ian Frazier in my local indie bookstore. The place is tiny, room for perhaps twenty-five or so listeners. My go
...more
Patrick
This is an engrossing, serviceable, somewhat gossipy but ultimately fair-minded biography of David Foster Wallace. He probably would have hated it, since he wanted his fiction to stand on its own, but it answered a lot of questions I had about what his life was like while he was writing his best-known works. This biography is not great literature, but it does the job. I completely understand the fans who are infuriated by it, and I agree that you should only come to it after reading Wallace. You ...more
Darwin8u
A good solid biography of David Foster Wallace. For a writer who was so hyped, celebrated and written about, it was a nearly impossible task to bring anything large or significant to the table with Wallace. D.T. Max did a good job. He didn't write a hagiography or sycophant's biography, but also avoided sinking into a loop of cheap theatrics that might have tempted another biographer. It wasn't a revolution as far as DFW was concerned or as far as biographies of writers either.

For me, it was lik
...more
M. Sarki
Nothing great here, but it was interesting to learn things I did not know. Three stars here means I liked it, which I gratefully did. However, I am not the biggest fan of DT Max, but then again it is I who stands firmly in the camp of the reliably loyal Gordon Lish fans and his athletic supporters. (DT has a problem with clearing important matters up and leaving some things wide open for further discussion.) I was disappointed there wasn't more said on the marriage relationship and the awful str ...more
Paul Gleason
I began reading Infinite Jest for the first time when my ex-wife and I were flying over the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Rome. This reading was my first experience of DFW, and I remember howling with laughter as perplexed Italians perplexedly looked at the nerdy guy with glasses who couldn't control his hysterical relationship with what appeared to be a copy of what appeared to be . . . a dictionary??!!!

I wasn't laughing at the tremendous material in DFW's very funny mega-novel but laughing with
...more
Derek McDow
ELS-isa-GS haunted me but not because it tells of DFW, a brilliant literary titan, who suffered deep psychic trauma and depression but because of the phantoms shadowing the presence of this caricatured history. Everyone is mysteriously absent, hovering just beyond the periphery--his parents, his sister, his many gfs (Mary Karr) and his wife Karen Green, his literary peers (Delillo, Franzen, Costello, editors, agents like Bonnie Nadell), his students, his AA mentors, sponsors & therapists.

D.
...more
Judy
Oct 20, 2012 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: biography readers, writers, philosphers and Wallce fans
Recommended to Judy by: Tajma
A nicely written biography of David Foster Wallace of Infinite Jest fame. D.T. Max offers up an excellent telling of the life of Foster through interviews with his wife, family, fellow authors and friends. I like the fact that Max never met Wallace creating in my mind a more unbiased approach to Wallace's life. I never felt manipulated by Max to accept his opinion of Foster but invited to draw my own conclusion.

Wallace , a genius in his own right, lived a sad life filled with drug and alcohol a
...more
Ashley
This won't make a ton of sense, because I just finished the book and ended up having a REALLY strong reaction to the way the ending was handled- so my head is kind of clouded with frustration at the moment.

I was SO looking forward to reading this. I rushed to my local Barnes & Noble 5 minutes before the store closed the day it was released and tried to buy it, but they told me they didn't have it/never ordered any. Life got in the way and I wasn't able to get it until a few weeks later. I st
...more
Will
You can dismiss this review now because I almost never read biographies.

I wanted to see the life behind the stories and D.T. Max’s breadth of research shows through in Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. I can see how it might serve as a place to gawk for some but for me it gave the biographical dimension to his work that I wanted. It tells of the patchwork of mental strengths and ailments that kept him bound, fretting, striving, obsessing, thinking, and maybe most importantly, writing. Writing
...more
René López Villmar
Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, de D.T. Max es la primera biografía publicada del autor de Infinite Jest. El autor demuestra una buena capacidad para investigar y documentar la vida de Wallace. La prosa es irregular, aunque la mayor parte del tiempo es funcional. La historia de Wallace, desde su nacimiento hasta el momento de su muerte, ni más ni menos, es excelente.

Max tiene dos grandes aciertos en este libro:

El primero es no suponer que los lectores conocerán toda la obra de Wallace (aunque
...more
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Brain Pain: DFW biography by D.T. Max 5 54 Mar 06, 2013 11:26PM  
21st Century Lite...: Issues of Composition 18 44 Oct 30, 2012 04:51AM  
21st Century Lite...: A Love Story or a Ghost Story? 32 45 Oct 24, 2012 07:24PM  
21st Century Lite...: Manageable Vices 14 20 Oct 24, 2012 10:19AM  
21st Century Lite...: Generosity 9 18 Oct 24, 2012 09:15AM  
21st Century Lite...: Just the Facts 1 13 Oct 01, 2012 02:56AM  
21st Century Lite...: An Addictive Personality 1 10 Oct 01, 2012 02:52AM  
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  • Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present
  • Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest
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D.T. Max is a staff writer for the New Yorker. He lives outside of New York with his wife, two small children and rescued beagle who came to them named Max. He is the author of The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery (Random House) and Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Viking), to be released in paperback in September 2013.
More about D.T. Max...
The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery Testing the Current Ermenegildo Zegna : an enduring passion for fabrics, innovation, quality and style

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“Grammar, he saw, was agreement, community, consensus.” 4 likes
“I go through a loop in which I notice all the ways I am - for just an example - self-centered and careerist and not true to standards and values that transcend my own petty interests, and feel like I'm not one of the good ones; but then I countenance the fact that here at least I am worrying about it; so then I feel better about myself (I mean, at least this stuff is on my mind, at least I'm dissatisfied with my level of integrity and commitment); but this soon becomes a vehicle for feeling superior to (imagined) Others...It has to do with God and gods and a basic sense of trust in the universe v. fear that the universe must be held at bay and micromanaged into giving me some smidgen of some gratification I feel I simply can't live without. It's all very confusing. I think I'm very honest and candid, but I'm also proud of how honest and candid I am - so where does that put me.” 1 likes
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