Michael'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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Jan 01, 2013

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Read in December, 2012

If “letters are oxygen to the biographer”, then D.T. Max’s biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, would seem at first glance to be a match-stroke away from combustion. Wallace’s lifelong habit of physical correspondence with friends and fellow writers, such as Jonathan Frazen and Don DeLillo, left Max ample opportunity to let Wallace to frame his life in his own words. Max’s light authorial touch, taking it easy on moralising or extrapolating beyond the evidence available to him, is simultaneously the book’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

On the one hand, Max is careful to avoid playing too much into the cult of “Saint Dave” – the romanticised image of Wallace as the tortured artist able to transform the idiosyncrasies of personal suffering into the universalities of art. The book manages to balance distance with character through judicious quotations from Wallace’s letters and stories. There will be some who will roll their eyes at even this understated account of Wallace’s life – Bret Easton Ellis’s description of Wallace as “the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation” springs to mind – but this book wasn’t written for the teaspoon-of-concrete crowd.

On the other hand, this careful distance was also the book’s failing for me. While I can’t fault its page-turning power – I was originally going to be reviewing Nightfall this week, before being sidetracked by Every Love Story - I found it difficult to engage on an emotional level. I was curious to know more about Wallace’s life, and Every Love Story was more than happy to satisfy that curiosity. But when Wallace’s story took a downhill turn and came to an abrupt end, I found myself happy to take my leave without staying for the encore. An emotionally stronger ending would have had me reaching for Infinite Jest, or perhaps The Pale King, in a heartbeat. Instead, both of these books have been filed away in that intrigued-but-detached part of my brain where books tend to yellow and gather dust, waiting for a long winter’s night.

Title: Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story
Author: D.T. Max
Rating: 3.5 / 5

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