Lee'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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Aug 19, 2016

really liked it
Read from October 26 to November 01, 2012

A complicated chap, this DFW: capable of extreme 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 beyond changing bulbs in his many lamps, a mama's boy who liked the ladies and the ganja when young, no apparent deep interest in fine art or music or food (beyond blondies and poptarts) or footwear (beyond untied workboots), psychopathically obsessive about Mary Carr in an unambiguously creepy way, worried about media's affect on American morality in what amounts to unattractive moralizing at this point maybe -- his intelligence and humor and perception and sentences are undisputed champs of the world but the overarching media-saturation sadness stuff and his obsessive insistence on sadness/suffering/darkness etc only seem to fight half the thematic battle (ie, what Milton called "light and darkness in perpetual round"). But I'm not here to judge the dude -- this is an impression of a biography that lays the foundation for better ones to come but which is very readable and steady and an excellent start. I admired how it mutes for the most part its judgments, how it presents the facts, the quotations, the timeline, the memories of friends etc and always lets us see the lies as much as the kindness. Typos and misused words (passify, skein) didn't overly distract me but I did find recaps of all work other than Infinite Jest not so fun. Would've LOVED 25+ glossy insert pages of photos (at least the obligatory elementary school class portrait with young DFW, top left, eyes bright but mercurially averting direct contact with camera) and facsimiles of handwritten manuscript/journal pages and college transcripts and samples of his teaching syllabi! Generally, a serviceable bio studded with Franzen and DeLillo correspondence, with juicy bits about his total insanity for Mary Carr, plus details w/r/t his obsessive showering . . . Loved that he could write 22K words in a day. Loved that he brushed his teeth for 45 minutes every morning and night in college. Loved that the opening college interview freakout in IJ was based on real events at my (and Lenore Beadsman's) alma mater. Loved that he turned down inexpensive Iowa on financial grounds as though he couldn't get loans and teaching jobs -- or have his parents pay his way through his MFA. Mentions unrepentantly parochial books I'd heard he'd loved like (the unfinishably slow for me) Catholics by Brian Moore and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. After a point I couldn't put this down and it was a fine companion while cooped up sick as Superstorm Sandy devastated everything -- there's something asssociable about reading a long-awaited bio about the recently deceased DFW (a man known for his overwhelming intelligence and outsized novel) and the recent Frankenstorm that churned slowly up the coast. There's maybe something alternately devastating and underwhelming about both, too, depending on where you live (literally/figuratively). Ultimately, this more than sufficiently suggests what it felt like to be the FHB (fucking human being) known as DFW -- and it answered lingering WTFs w/r/t his life and superfucking heartbreaking death (surprised there wasn't a post-death chapter about reactions and a lot more about his final days than first appeared in the New Yorker article). Worth it if you've ever wondered about the guy's story, his high school history, his grades in the second semester of his sophomore year in college (spoiler: A+ across the board), how much action he got after IJ came out, how many students he slept with, etc, how many friends from recovery groups he helped out financially, etc, and have read the interviews and Lipsky thing and want to live in DFW World awhile more. It's a charismatic, virulent, thought-colonizing place but, again, thematically, I feel like it's maybe partially pathological and reliant on therapy/recovery-related simplicities restated in overeducated serpentine slipstreams of high/low language -- not all of it, just some of it, I'd say. What I mean is: what once was a literary marriage between author and reader built on unabashed love has changed its status to "it's complicated." Anyway, RIP DFW, although through IJ and your essays you'll live forever. After Both Flesh and Not: Essays is published next week, let's hope for a bit of silence -- at least until the collected letters, emails, responses to student stories come out.
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Reading Progress

10/26 page 13
3.0% "Suggestion that DFW's father thought Oberlin a good college match for his son and then goes into interview anxiety -- Oberlin didn't have evaluative interviews -- they were more informative for students to ask questions etc . . . Not a big deal, but still."
10/28 page 94
26.0% "Is "passify" a word? Retelling of early short stories etc makes for dull reading." 2 comments
10/30 page 212
59.0% "Interesting analysis of 1990s' abundance and the dominance of lyrical realism over "protest" lit -- minimalism and postmodernism. Otherwise, I can't quite put this down now -- very balanced portrait of DFW allows reader to decide if he's selfish, immature, insane, genius, etc -- probably all of the above of course"
08/19 marked as: read

Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-13 of 13) </span> <span class="smallText">(13 new)</span>

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message 1: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia I love the way this review neither worships nor totally trashes DFW; most stuff written about the guy these days does one or the other.


Kiof Or trashes Max for not worshiping DFW. :)


message 3: by Enzo (new)

Enzo I think I would be interested on a book that dealt with his teaching. I wonder what he was teaching about Carrie or Silence of the Lambs or Black Sunday etc. Also, he must have had some interesting methods. Former students should get together and make an oral history out of that shit. It will sell, I promise :)


Kiof There's a syllabus of his from Pomona floating around on the 'net somewhere. You might want to check that out, Enzo. I know I'd buy that oral history on the first day it came out.


message 5: by Lee (last edited Nov 02, 2012 11:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Syllabi and annotations are available here: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/press/relea...

Otherwise, I tend to become skeptical when the corpus of someone I love becomes a nutritional supplement for academics, journalists, and publishing companies -- at some point, my "it's complicated" relationship status goes to "unfollowed" (excuse the social media solecism <-- a word I learned reading this book!)? I'm more likely to read IJ and the essays three more times than a memoir about him by anyone other than his mom or Mary Carr.


Kiof I'd be surprised if that happened to Foster Wallace, considering how it is easy to turn on him after reading the first real biography of him. It is possible the "Saint DFW" club could continue as a side-industry for the totally delusional- I'd really have to avoid those books. The thing I enjoyed the most about this admittedly painful bio are the descriptions of Wallace's delightfully awkward presence (Shoestrings flapping, twinkies in hand). An oral history by students would offer a plethora of that loveable Schadenfreude. But after one oral history I wouldn't stick around- the personality isn't anywhere near as interesting or compelling as IJ, like you implied.


message 7: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee The David Foster Wallace Appreciation Society (via BookForum's blog)
http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/page...


message 8: by Albert (new)

Albert 22K a day?? A true NaNoWriMo man ;)


message 9: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jan 06, 2013 08:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio This is this umpteenth time I've come across a review that I swear on all things swear-worthy that I've clicked the "Like" button for previously only to find that it appears now that I haven't. GR is a weird, glitchy place sometimes. Great review.


Brianne excellent review. now i need to take a breath.


message 11: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Brianne wrote: "excellent review. now i need to take a breath."

Thanks! May your breathlessness abate, Brianne.


message 12: by McLain (new)

McLain Chadsey I'm really sorry, but the term "Aspergian selfishness" is offensive bullshit.


message 13: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Fair enough -- I agree -- will change it as soon as I get a chance


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