21st Century Literature discussion

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
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message 1: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1325 comments Mod
Wallace could be described as a ‘Holy Fool’. He gave money away, he was very supportive of other writers (Franzen in particular) and he worked very hard for his students, triple-marking their submissions in different coloured pens.

But was he as generous to his family?


message 2: by Will (new)

Will (wjmcomposer) I don't think you can fully expect an artist to be as generous to their family as they are to their students/world. And yes, I'm waving a flag and condemning myself at times in saying that. Is it worse because I not only acknowledge this but have no intention of changing as opposed to doing so without realizing?


message 3: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (last edited Oct 20, 2012 02:11PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1325 comments Mod
I'm inclined to think: street angel, house devil in my case! Mind, I'm hard pressed to be generous to some members of my family; which doesn't mean I don’t try. It’s just that they know me too well…

It’s not difficult to be generous to be students, though. For one thing the relationship is very different; a student’s relationship with a tutor is contractual. But I think Wallace had a genuine love of teaching – maybe it was where he was at his best (in terms of being a well-rounded human being).

I don’t think he abused his students’ trust by betraying them in his fiction, but he didn't seem to have any qualms about using his friends, family and members of his Support Groups. (What a way to hit back at your mother).

Is it ever right for an author to use people s/he knows in this manner, without their express permission, or without they are heavily disguised? Was Wallace exempt, because of what he wrote – and how?


message 4: by Thing Two (last edited Oct 20, 2012 03:10PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Thing Two (thingtwo) Sophia wrote: "But was he as generous to his family?"

It's difficult for us to answer that question, not witnessing the interactions first hand, but I'd guess, by the very idea that his sister was the second person mentioned in D.T. Max's acknowledgements, that there was a lot of love for this very troubled man.

And every author uses people, some are just better at covering it than others. Annie Lamott has a great suggestion in her book Bird by Bird  Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, "If you disguise this person carefully so that he cannot be recognized by the physical or professional facts of his life, you can use him in your work. And the best advice I can give you is to give him a teenie little penis so he will be less likely to come forth."


message 5: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1325 comments Mod
Annie Lamott's quite right! (She's another recovering alcoholic).

So, why did Wallace make little - or no effort - to disguise his mother in his fiction? Doesn't that diminish our respect and admiration for him, as a person?


message 6: by Thing Two (last edited Oct 20, 2012 03:17PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Thing Two (thingtwo) Sophia wrote: "Annie Lamott's quite right! (She's another recovering alcoholic).

So, why did Wallace make little - or no effort - to disguise his mother in his fiction? Doesn't that diminish our respect and ad...


Oh, my. Well parents are a different story...

Of course, we're also taking someone else's understanding of who represents whom in his stories. Did he ever definitively say X = mother? I only say this, because I wrote a poem that my husband swears is about my father; it's not.

The biographer never really explains what went wrong in that idyllic setting, does he? I guess I'll have to read Infinite Jest.


message 7: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1325 comments Mod
It couldn't be clearer!

In Chapter 6 (first page) Max makes it clear that Wallace was fictionalising his mother in his novel. He goes on...

At the time of Amy's marriage Wallace wrote to Franzen worried that "he was scared 'stuff in the mss' would hurt his mother. The portrait of Avril Incandenza had considerable ferocity."

He asked his sister to copy-edit 'Infinite Jest’ and she "immediately saw what was going on and asked him if he really felt this was the right way to deal with his anger at his mother."

When Amy discussed the book with her mother she remembers that parts of the book about Avril "left her deeply distressed."


Thing Two (thingtwo) Sophia wrote: "It couldn't be clearer!

In Chapter 6 (first page) Max makes it clear that Wallace was fictionalising his mother in his novel. He goes on...

At the time of Amy's marriage Wallace wrote to Franzen..."


Ah, but I haven't read Infinite Jest yet. :)


message 9: by Sophia, Honorary Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sophia Roberts | 1325 comments Mod
Are parents a different story? I waited until both my parents were dead before I even considered publishing anything about them. And even now I know I'm likely incur my family's wrath. Think hanging dirty linen out in public...


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Books mentioned in this topic

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (other topics)
Infinite Jest (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

D.T. Max (other topics)
Annie Lamott (other topics)