Moira’s review of Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Marieke (new)

Marieke least the Most Anticipated Review of 2012 delivered. So there's that. :)

message 2: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Be sure to not miss the "Turnbull's Fitzgerald" link in Moira's review above. It links to her concise discussion of the life cycle of the biography. And by all means, read those status updates!

Merci beaucoup, Moira.

message 3: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Merci beaucoup, Moira."

Aww thanks....

Man now I'm bummed. I think we're going out to late brunch. Might have some DFW Memorial Pancakes.

message 4: by JSA (new)


message 5: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell J.S.A. wrote: "YOU SAVED US, MOI"


(I actually REFUSED morphine one time in the ER when I was getting a wound cleaned/drained and stitched up - they used Lidocaine, so it wasn't actually a big deal. But I guess painkillers don't actually make you high if you're _in_ pain? T had Percocet when he had his teeth out, and he didn't nod out. But he hates painkillers anyway, and it was making us uncomfortable having them in the house, so down the john they went.)

message 6: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Oh, speaking of Gately, there was one great footnote - 'When Big Craig read the novel after it was published he remembers thinking, "Holy crap! The bastard was just looking for information."' I want Big Craig's memoir of DFW, man.

message 7: by Moira (last edited Sep 02, 2012 05:12PM) (new)

Moira Russell Marieke wrote: " least the Most Anticipated Review of 2012 delivered. So there's that. :)"

Aww, heh. Actually by the time I wrote the actual review I was sort of all bummed out - partly because the book was such shit, but also the last year of DFW's life really is such a total wipe-out -- he goes off Nardil on p 297, and by p 301 it's September 12 (gotta wonder about that date) and he's dead and it's all over. Poor fucker.

I was thinking, about the very end....I don't know if he was that blocked on Pale King - he was teaching, same as he was when writing IJ, yeah, but I think handling more classes, plus turning out the nonfic pieces, plus engaged with his wife and dogs, &c. In a footnote DTM quotes him as saying he tried to start IJ "in 86, 88, 89" but couldn't get it going til "91-92" - he began writing the bulk of it maybe in 91, handed in the draft in 93, there was cutting and cutting and then editing and it was published in 96. So that's about ten years of attempts, all told, maybe five years of really active work writing and editing and rewriting and cutting.

So then, partly According To Wiki - he had supposedly started researching TPK right in 96 or 97 after he finished IJ, or at least that's when he started taking some of the tax classes. But he took time out for Brief Interviews (1999), Up, Simba! (2000), Everything and More (2003) (which sounds _very_ distracting, 11 months of full-time work instead of 3-4 of part-time), Oblivion (2004) and Consider the Lobster (2005). That's all a shitload of work, even if just busywork - with IJ, IIRC the stories in Girl with Curious Hair (1989) preceded most of his work on it. E Unibus Pluram was written I think mostly pre-IJ, the Fair and Lynch and cruise ship essays were mostly after he handed in the full draft? so they weren't all going concurrently, the way the TPK-era nonfiction seems to have done. I think. (The presentation of chronology in this bio is fucked, for a lot of this I had to go back to the NYorker essay.)

He apparently started writing TPK directly around 2000 and in 2007 it was supposedly about one-third finished. His writing life from August 07 on is basically over - he couldn't work, repeatedly tried to commit suicide, was hospitalized three times. But first after IJ he did Interviews, and then Oblivion seems to both have grown out of some TPK drafts and alongside it, and he kept stepping out to write the essays. So it's more like he couldn't sit down and do that long sustained writing he first did on IJ in Syracuse and then even while teaching in ISU.

But maybe more importantly: apparently unlike when he showed the first 250 pp of IJ to Nadell and she sent them to editor(s), and when he kept delivering pages to the LB editor who kept encouraging him to cut as he wrote, he didn't have anyone outside reading it and encouraging him on - DTM says he wouldn't show it to anyone. Trying to just get started on let alone carry through an enormous interlaced 1000+ page project all alone sounds terribly fucking hard. I don't think it's so much the absence of Mary Karr that fucked him over, as DTM claims, as maybe the absence of both Nadell and Pietsch. It seems like also the grueling experience of cutting IJ so much, repeatedly, was weighing on him - he speaks several times of being unhappy just at the thought of working so hard on piling something up only to be required to cut a lot of it later, and it sounds like even when he did manage to write, he cut it pre-emptively -- it went from his writing pad to the wastepaper basket. It's not like he wasn't writing at all, at least til he went off the Nardil and his brain shredded, he just wasn't able to focus the labour and make himself produce.

With IJ he had a proposal, an advance, a contract, a deadline, at least two (maybe three or four) supportive critical readers, the momentum - with TPK he had none of these things. It seemed clear to me, altho DTM didn't really bring it up, that he wrote IJ at least partly in the big rush of sobering up -- he had a new topic, a new story, threads in his life were coming together. And maybe his attempt to go off Nardil wasn't just to get off medz altogether, or regain the passion, &c &c, but to kind of try to repeat that -- juice himself up again. It's a really common reason for writers to go off their medz. And it's basically playing roulette.

message 8: by JSA (new)

JSA Lowe ^^^ LIKE

message 9: by JSA (new)

JSA Lowe (FTR I was Liking™ the Big Craig memoir idea. I do not Like™ this nonsensical notion of Mary Karr as indispensible muse. I've read other critics agreeing—maybe DFW himself in a letter to Franzen?—that the magazine work was draining him, and he'd started turning it down. Pomona would have given him a sabbatical in a heartbeat, of course. But that doesn't matter if you're not hypergraphic, or hypomanic, or just lack the sustained attention to deal with the ruthless cutting and culling and organizing. Writing that kind of novel must be like planning a manned NASA mission. Just insane. Like making a film only you are the director, producer, DP, PAs, and gaffer/best boy/greens wrangler all rolled into unhappy one. IMO.

And, roulette. And, goddammit, Dave. And Moi you are Gately in more ways than one. <3

message 10: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell J.S.A. wrote: "^^^ LIKE"

You know why it took me so fucking long to try to figure some of that basic shit out? IT'S NOT IN THE GODDAMN BOOK. Jesus Christ. The chronology's just awful - going along and then all of a sudden "two years ago he had written blahblah" and there's no sense of anything building up. aslkdjflasjdflsjkdf

And the way DTM tells it, it really does come across as "In Syracuse he was loooooooonging for Mary Karr and writing like a demon and undomesticated but at the end of his life he was happily married and teaching and writing all these essays" blahblah. And I'm just like, sure he was distracted on the one hand and content on the other, but do we really want to say people can create great art only when they're agitated? Because that's apparently what DFW thought, and why he went off his medz and fucking died. Dead people don't produce many masterpieces.

message 11: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell tommie wrote: "moira, i cant quite remember where i read this or if i made it up--we know dfw didnt stay sober, right? or am i speculating?"

Oh no, it seems pretty clear at least to me he sobered up for good after November 1989 when he landed himself in McLean - that was his moment of clarity, as they say, if maybe not necessarily the utter bottom (that seems to've been right before that when he tried to commit suicide and was given ECT in Urbana). But it also seems equally clear he still had other addictions after that - nicotine, probably sex, the definite addiction to Relationship Drama so many recovered addicts can't shake. But in Pomona he wasn't teaching much, he got married, he was seeing his parents again, he'd calmed down a lot, from about 2002 or 2004 on. He just couldn't pressurize himself to really start work on the damn book.

message 12: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Super bummed this sucks! Oh well, maybe it's best mine got lost in the mail.

message 13: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell J.S.A. wrote: "(FTR I was Liking™ the Big Craig memoir idea.

Oh! and OMFG YES. YES. Find Big Craig! Interview him! Give him a pencil and a tablet! Someone!

I do not Like™ this nonsensical notion of Mary Karr as indispensible muse.

Just WTFFFFFFFF....DTM really has set up this narrative of, IJ was started in the heat of Love for Mary and DFW finished it in an attempt to prove himself Worthy of Her and just, no. I have no doubt that partly helped kick it off, sure, but you don't finish a 1200+ page novel that intricate and complex just to try to impress someone.

Pomona would have given him a sabbatical in a heartbeat, of course.

Yeah, DTM records him saying to Nadell that maybe he could take unpaid leave to finish it - but then he really backed out on sending her a packet. It sounds like he was really horribly dithering and in doubt about what he was writing, which is of course the surest way to kill it. And for some reason he kept upholding Franzen as this Aesthetic Master - Franzen was both Artist enough to just work and work and work stubbornly with no reward, and to throw it all away before finishing Corrections (ptui). But DFW didn't work that way, clearly.

But that doesn't matter if you're not hypergraphic, or hypomanic, or just lack the sustained attention to deal with the ruthless cutting and culling and organizing. Writing that kind of novel must be like planning a manned NASA mission. Just insane. Like making a film only you are the director, producer, DP, PAs, and gaffer/best boy/greens wrangler all rolled into unhappy one. IMO.


And no doubt the combat with the editor over the cuts and just the editing itself was scarring - I mean, there was plenty of evidence in that in how he was so unhappy just at the idea of working hard on a pile of pages only to throw them away - but it's also energizing, engaging. (Infinite Jest as mission to Mars - like Curiosity! aww man. That kinda makes me want to cry.) DTM does posit that maybe if DFW had shown some of the shorter pieces to editors &c they might have convinced him to publish novellas, or a themed collection - like Hideous Men had been. But of course the big question was, when are you gonna write another Infinite Jest, only it has to be different from Infinite Jest and also better and why are you still fucking around with these short stories and articles? and of course, when we did get the posthumous TPK anyway, what is it basically but a series of linked sketches and longer pieces. He could have done it that way, too. Infinite Jest was the web, the network of references, the constantly cross-cutting and interlooping and divided-yet-touching narratives - actual tangents. If TPK had been looser, baggier, it wouldn't've been a "worthy successor," or at least he probably thought so.

Apparently coming up with the plot -- the rogue group in the IRS wanting to kidnap the savant auditors or whatever, the shift from providing a civil service to ruthlessly increasing revenue - was SO MUCH of what was keeping him from writing the book. As-you-know-Bob what he did with the "missing year" in IJ was effectively and neatly snip a lot of that plot shit out, showing everything leading up to it and a tiny bit of its aftermath.

And, roulette. And, goddammit, Dave.

Yeah. I have known SO MANY bipolar people who felt deadened by their medz and went off, trying to recapture the buzz. Yeah he was on Nardil for what, 22 years? (Jesus) but some of his creative behaviour does seem to touch hypomania - altho as always I'm uneasy with that, because then all creativity becomes hypomania, Handel writing the Messiah in what was it two weeks is pathological, &c. It's like a spectrum I guess....a lot of creativity looks like hypomania, but not all hypomania/hypergraphia &c is creativity. It's so easy to picture him sitting there getting so frustrated and remembering ten years earlier how different it had been, how it had all just flowed.

And Moi you are Gately in more ways than one. <3

Aww. Well that's a very dear and cherished compliment. I do love my Gately.

message 14: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell tommie wrote: "ahhh that is what i remember being sad about. right. thank you for allowing me to use your memory since mine is awful."

HAH mine is equally awful, I'm just sitting here with the biography and the browser on the NYorker article. (Damn that was good. Why couldn't the book have been like that? Damn.)

message 15: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell s.penkevich wrote: "Super bummed this sucks! Oh well, maybe it's best mine got lost in the mail."

By now I am seriously secretly convinced it was edited way the hell down from a bigger ms. No idea whether or not that's true but otherwise it's like he suddenly lost about 20 IQ points while writing it.

message 16: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Ha, maybe because standing in the shadows of DFW makes everyone feel dumber, it just happened to actually happen to him. The editing could be, maybe they rushed it out to get the interest in DFW back up for when the newest collection of essays come out in a month (hopefully that isn't thrown together and shoved out the door).

message 17: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie "'Every story has a beginning and this is David Wallace's.' Well that's....unpromising."

LOL, that is sooo bad. I would be tempted to snap the book shut right there.

message 18: by JSA (new)

JSA Lowe Um basically I would just like to say, from now on I will pass the Paypal hat so that Mr. Russell can liveblog EVERY TERRIBLE BIOGRAPHY she has to read, not only taking one for Team Goodreads but also bringing the wicked-smart lulz all the livelong day. Hip hip, hooray! For she's a jolly good Moira.

message 19: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell B0nnie wrote: ""'Every story has a beginning and this is David Wallace's.' Well that's....unpromising."
LOL, that is sooo bad. I would be tempted to snap the book shut right there."

I SHOULD HAVE. Except I was so pathetically excited to read it. That sentence was like the booming basso note when the shark starts swimming upwards in Jaws, believe me.

message 20: by rachel (new)

rachel Hahahaha. ^^

I'm gonna give it a pass.

message 21: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell rachel wrote: "Hahahaha. ^^
I'm gonna give it a pass."


message 22: by Joshua (new)

Joshua W James I'm so glad you wrote all that. I was going to buy the kindle version (which is inexplicably a few dollars more than the hardback), but now I don't have to. And from the sounds of it, your scathing cliffnotes are more fun to read...and free!

message 23: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Hah, thanks!

I would really recommend Lipsky's original Rolling Stone article and DT Max's New Yorker article instead, if you want DFW gen. As well as the DFW Conversations volume, maybe, altho I didn't like that as much.

message 24: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Hi Moira - this just got reviewed in the Sunday Times - let me quote a little from their review:

Max's book luminously ties Wallace's writings to his life and charts the course of his literary development with outstanding subtlety... A staff writer on the New Yorker, Max is too elegant a biographer to overegg how terrible Wallacecould be and how much his behavious might have been rooted in something nefarious in his family's past. instead the evidence is simply and devastatingly left on view in this supremely understated and magnificently comprehensive life of a remarkable writer.

Take three deep breaths!

message 25: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis tommie wrote: "oh lordy."

This is a case of amateur reviewers doing the jobs of professional reviewers muchmuchmuch better than the professionals. The pro reviews have been consistently uncritical salivations.

message 26: by howl of minerva (new)

howl of minerva The grauniad was similarly uncritical (

I can't quite believe that the hack who wrote the blurb to the review was tasteless enough to say: "A superb biography of David Foster Wallace brings the man and his work to life."

Think that's what Moira would call a facedesk moment.

message 27: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant hmm, that review gives me a thumbnail sketch of why I have some problems with DFW:

There's a subplot involving the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.). One of his short stories describes an artist who becomes famous for what he shits. Of course, this kind of thing is supposed to be funny, but it isn't just the humour that seems sophomoric. Wallace's obsession with the problems of irony and authenticity and boredom, with TV and advertising and pot, suggests that his sense of what matters to people remained fundamentally shaped by his college years.

message 28: by howl of minerva (new)

howl of minerva I used to think the same thing. Then I actually read a bunch of DFW and thought very differently. I'd suggest starting with the non-fiction, particularly 'A supposedly fun thing.' If you aren't hooked within the first few pages of the title piece, then I guess you can fairly lay DFW aside as not-for-you.

message 29: by Kiof (new)

Kiof I don't really get your take on this book, but everybody's entitled to their own strong opinion (I know I got quite a few). I didn't think the book was masterfully written or anything, but I thought, simply as a collection of facts, it did a pretty good job. I thought the NY article was much worse because it felt like an attempt to put him in the Sylvia Plath club/cannon and he was more complex than that (Plath was probably too). Anyways, your passion for DFW is admirable. As for the take that Karr and IJ are connected, read Wallace's own self-help book marginalia (it is somewhere on the net).

message 30: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Suicide authors bequeath us the problem of what we think about the work as distinguished from what we think about the work knowing the author suicided. Also did the pyschological illness help the work, or hinder it, or make it what it was, or was it made in spite of the illness. It's a mess. You don't have to get into that dubious area with other less ill authors.

message 31: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant did you see this ?

Bret Easton Ellis launches broadside against David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace, the critically acclaimed American writer who took his own life in 2008, has been described as "the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation" by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis.

Ellis, no stranger to provoking controversy with his comments, laid into Foster Wallace on Twitter this morning, calling him "a fraud", and "the best example of a contemporary male writer lusting for a kind of awful greatness that he simply wasn't able to achieve".

According to Zadie Smith Foster Wallace "was an actual genius". Dave Eggers believes his writing is "world-changing", and the Booker-longlisted novelist Ned Beauman wrote last week that today's novelists must try "to work out how in a million years we might ever hope to absorb the magnificent advances and expansions Wallace offered to the form".

But "Saint David Foster Wallace", according to Ellis, is read by "fools": "a generation trying to read him feels smart about themselves which is part of the whole bullshit package".

The late author, who took his own life in 2008, is the subject of a new biography by DT Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. Ellis told his 300,000-odd Twitter followers that he was in the middle of reading the book, and " OMG is the solemnity of the David Foster Wallace myth on a purely literary level borderline sickening".

"Anyone who finds David Foster Wallace a literary genius has got to be included in the, Literary Doucebag-Fools Pantheon [sic]," said Ellis. "David Foster Wallace carried around a literary pretentiousness that made me embarrassed to have any kind of ties to the publishing scene … I continue to find David Foster Wallace the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation."

The author, whose 1,000-page novel Infinite Jest is seen as his masterpiece, said Ellis, "was so needy, so conservative, so in need of fans – that I find the halo of sentimentality surrounding him embarrassing."

Although he has said that "I've never searched for controversy – it's not something I'm interested in generating", Ellis has never been shy about airing his opinions, from why women don't make good film directors to, more recently, why a gay actor should not be allowed to play the straight character Christian Grey in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey.

message 32: by M. (new)

M. Sarki I had just commented on my own update today that I was having DT's by page 65, and then I came here, I read all this, and now I think I might be on to something. These comments were great. Thanks.

message 33: by Catherine (new)

Catherine The "last anemic thirty pages or so" was my major complaint, which is why it only got a four out of me. But I enjoyed reading about Wallace's approach to writing and his struggles with that. I did want to know though more detail about the last depressive episode of his life and there was not much. I guess that is voyeuristic of me, but as someone who can relate to depression, I wanted to know more. It was probably a bit of a mess because it came from pieces of all sorts of things to make it up, but yes, a bit of a mess, nonetheless. I am hoping someone else writes another biography - one that deals more with his private inner life a little more, if possible.

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