Cheryl Kennedy's Reviews > Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story by D.T. Max
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Sep 17, 12

bookshelves: biography, psychology, favorites, philosophy
Read from September 01 to 04, 2012

"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 comprehensive biography with multiple threads of Wallace's brief life addressed. The evolution of his literary thinking alone could support another writing. Bravely, the questions that could be asked at this time were addressed, even though there may not be answers.

A conflicted, desperate man is portrayed near the end of his life. Wallace was "temporizing" while trying to finish his last novel, THE PALE KING. He had so many ambitions. "It had to show people a way to insulate themselves from the toxic freneticism of American life. It had to be emotionally engaged and morally sound, and to dramatize boredom without being too entertaining." His insightful and observant mind set the highest standards for his work, but he struggled with what to filter to make his points.

In 2005 Wallace wrote in one of his notebooks, "They're rare, but they're among us. People able to achieve and sustain a certain steady state of concentration, attention, despite what they're doing." But by 2005, Wallace's failure to write THE PALE KING was truth-telling to his unstable mind. "He wasn't an adept, an immersive, even after more than a dozen years of sobriety and recovery and sitting. He was not as far as he wished to be from the defective young man from Urbana who had arrived at Amherst in 1980. Work, he wrote Jonathan Franzen in December 2006, is like shitting sharp stones, still." Even with the approbation of his novel, INFINITE JEST, Wallace lived with the regressed side of himself that was insecure, anxious, self-critical and depressed.

A mental health diagnosis, treatment and subsequent timed recovery can be more detrimental to a person's view of himself than if no change in functioning had occurred. Wallace experienced periods of high productivity, levels of contentment, and satisfying intimacies with his wife, literary friends and his animals. Having closely observed how his mind worked, he knew the devastating void of his altered state, depression.

As a participant in the mental health field for many years, it became real that mental pain far outweighed the physical for some. Today there are limitations of understanding the mind, predicting lethality, and preventing suffering. Wallace, it seems to me, crowded into his few decades striving toward the heights of being that are most admirable in human beings, especially when anchored down by mental disadvantages beyond his control. Highest Recommendation! FAVORITE!


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message 3: by Paul (new)

Paul May I suggest the excellent Steve Jobs biography by Isaacson for another insight into an emotionally/relationally trouble genius.


Cheryl Kennedy Thanks, Paul. The Wallace biography was written by an author I was unfamiliar with, but Isaacson is one of my favorites which lends even more credibility to the book. I really appreciate your connecting the two books/subjects.


message 1: by Bob (new)

Bob Berry I am utterly mystified by the amount of hate directed at this biography in many of the comments I've been reading (emphatically not this particular post). I find the dislike of Max's book totally out of sync with my own experience of the book. Selah.


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