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Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  10,661 ratings  ·  943 reviews
The first biography of the most influential writer of his generation, David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was the leading literary light of his era, a man who not only captivated readers with his prose but also mesmerized them with his brilliant mind. In this, the first biography of the writer, D. T. Max sets out to chart Wallace’s tormented, anguished and often trium
Hardcover, 356 pages
Published August 30th 2012 by Viking (first published 2012)
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Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story is the book we did not want written or published in 2012, no more than we wanted “An Unfinished Novel” in 2011. No one should be happy that we have a biography of David Foster Wallace. But its publication was inevitable. And some of us are compelled to purchase it, read it, and object to its existence.

For those of us who have followed Wallace these past two decades, D.T. Max’s book is one part refresher of what we already know from Wallace’s books and interviews
Moira Russell
Apr 12, 2012 rated it did not like it
Yeah, this was just. Terrible. I don't even really have any smartassed thing left to say here after the inchoate spew of status updates - it was just sort of depressing to read the last anemic thirty pages or so. It's a little heartbreaking how very terrible this was. The NYorker article was great (its Q&A wasn't: a possible warning?). His participation in the Lipsky round table was great. I was really looking forward to this book. I was disappointed by the excerpt but thought, maybe that was a ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Aug 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
All my adult reading life, I waited for a young contemporary writer to transport me to the prose-rich playgrounds of Nabokov and Pynchon. ADA and GRAVITY'S RAINBOW were my torches, but they were, arguably, emotionally sterile. When I read INFINITE JEST ten years ago, I knew I had finally found an author who, besides giving words an elastic, carbonated buoyancy, was a vigorously palpable storyteller, altogether tragic and heartbreaking.

I remember the exact moment when I heard that Wallace took hi
Mar 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
"That was it exactly—irony was defeatist, timid, the telltale of a generation too afraid to say what it meant, and so in danger of forgetting it had anything to say."
-- D.T. Max, Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story


A good solid biography of David Foster Wallace. For a writer who was so hyped, celebrated and written about, it was a nearly impossible task to bring anything large or significant to the table with Wallace. D.T. Max did a good job. He didn't write a hagiography or sycophant's biography,
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Outline for review of D.T. Max's Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

I. Introduction

A. Witty opening line. Grab everyone's attention.

B. Thesis statement: There is no reason to read this book.

II. Body ¶1: My thoughts on/knowledge of DFW pre-this book.

A. He was a tortured genius, suffering from major depression.

i) Among other personality maladies - crippling anxiety.

B. His brilliant novel Infinite Jest has influenced everything I've read since I read it six months ago
Lee Klein
Oct 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Stephen M
An excerpt from one of DFW's first undergraduate stories entitled "The Sabrina Brothers in the Case of the Hung Hamster", a post-modern spoof on a Hardy Boys-type novel:

"Suddenly a sinister, twin-engined airplane came into view, sputtering and back-firing. It lost power and began spinning in toward the hill. It was heading right for the brothers!

Luckily at the last minute the plane ceased to exist.

'Crikey!' exclaimed Joe. 'It's a good thing we're characters in a highly implausible children's bo
Aug 14, 2012 rated it liked it
DT Max has provided us with a chronological, journalistic, utilitarian, somewhat slight but ultimately satisfying biography-lens through which we can peer at a certain David Foster Wallace. The other lenses through which we can observe our refracted fellow are his own writings, his interviews, the many pieces and remembrances to emerge about the man himself since his death. Each one will give us a different Wallace; if Citizen Kane taught us nothing else it was that those speaking of others can ...more
Tom Quinn
I didn't set out to analyze the varying levels of dirt to be found amidst Wallace's laundry, but here we are. This isn't a necessary book. This is a mix of tabloid sensationalism and outright fanboying that degrades the biography form, and if I might indulge in some fun misquoting of song lyrics for a moment: There's a whole lotta speculatin' goin' on...

2.5 stars. Wallace was no saint but this book exposes more than it might need to and therefore is primarily of interest to the voyeuristic and
MJ Nicholls
Workmanlike as predicted. Spits out the facts at warp speed nine. Main problem is it fails to render the aliveness of DFW or communicate the charisma of the man and his works. His life is depicted in terms of its struggles and suggests DFW inhabited a gloom-filled realm even in the moments when success and sex and productivity came his way, all of which were more abundant than the depressions and drug abuse. A bio of this superhuman writer should be grandiose and as abundant in ambition and scop ...more
Chris Via
Jan 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, 2020
Very mixed personal feelings--but, as the only Wallace biography out there it is definitely the trove of information expected (and more). Eye-opening to see the extent of Wallace's mental demons; saddening to see the effects of those troubles manifested and exacerbated by substance abuse. Still astounding to see how such troubled/tortured/unsavory people can produce such sublime art. The prose is clunky, sure, but that wasn't a goal of a book like this so I disregard the style and consider the d ...more
Oct 15, 2012 rated it liked it
This biography, useful as it is in providing some needed context, feels flimsy.

The most obvious missing piece in this bio is an exploration of David Wallace's relationship to his mother. It is quite clear even from Max's work that this relationship was central both to who David Wallace was and to the stylistic and thematic choices in his work. The difficulty of such an endeavor is clear. In unveiling whatever that relationship might have been like, Max risked offending Wallace's family, a risk t
Julie Ehlers
This is a serviceable biography of David Foster Wallace. It's not one of the best-written books I've ever read, and it will surely be hated by those who feel DFW should be spoken of only in tones of hushed reverence, but it got the job done. I'll share some pertinent facts from Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story in my upcoming review of Infinite Jest. ...more
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A serviceable if voyeuristic biography I purchased guiltily and consumed with greater guilt. The best and kindest thing that can be said for Love Story is that it evaluates Wallace’s seminal work Infinite Jest thoroughly and well, offering what reads less as a defense and more of an explanation for the parts I found obtuse, irrational, and maddeningly oblique. That was great, and it led me to thinking long and hard, but I’m writing this review fresh out of the last chapter with what feels like a ...more
Grace Liew
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
Best parts of the book by far are the flurries of DFW's quotes copied wholesale, albeit they still suffer from DT Max's flimsy attempts to give context. The book wades only in shallow waters and rickety theories, with no cutting insights whatsoever. Why did DT Max even write this, then?

Another reviewer already said very succinctly my overall impression of this book: it reads like a long wikipedia article. Personally, I'm a huge wiki fan. I wiki all sorts of shit. I glean biographies of my favori
Hannah Garden
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'd like to write a very long and thoughtful review of this but honestly when would I have time. I have nine minutes till I need to get dressed and head to Penn so wanna hear it here it go.

1. This book is not perfect. If that surprises you you are a moron. Some of the reviews I've glanced at so far have been written by morons. If you expected to pick this up and by its virtues have the absence of his death filled, to have the absence of his life in your life (because you didn't know him, he was
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
I guess I was hoping for something more rigorous. Facts and life changes are just sort of thrown out there. There's no real analysis or thoughtfulness of the kind you get out of a good biography. It reads like a decent enough, well researched, magazine profile that's been squished under a rolling pin to stretch out to three hundred pages. There were elements that felt sort of trashy and airporty, as no random hookup or binge goes unreported. There's a "...and then guess what...and then guess wha ...more
Aug 30, 2012 rated it liked it
I am a huge fan of David Foster Wallace -- the person who tried, so hard. His books were not necessarily my favorites, but something about him pulled at me. I've read everything I can find about him, every interview, every article, including the New Yorker article by D. T. Max. I bought this book as soon as I heard about it, pre-ordered it, and was thrilled the morning it was automatically delivered to my kindle. Couldn't wait.

And this was the most shallow, trivial biography I could imagine. I g
Leo Robertson
Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
William Wallace was 7ft tall and shot fireballs out his ass.
Thanks to D. T. Max, David Foster Wallace no longer does this.
Whether or not Wallace agreed this book was necessary for him to stop doing shooting fireballs out his ass, it was for me. Intent delivered.

I’ve been recommending the film Another Earth to many people. I can’t remember much about it now, to be honest. But I remember this other Earth in the background of shots where the protagonist considers her regrets: her problems carry the
Adam Floridia
Jun 05, 2012 rated it liked it
How can you write a true biography, a biography that really captures a human's whole life, or even just "the important" parts of it, and still moves smoothly from one important event to another?

Rhetorical question. I don't have the answer. D.T. Max certainly doesn't have the answer either. DFW once wrote about how impossible it would be to even accurately capture the infinite stimuli of a fleeting moment, so I don't envy the charge that a biographer takes on.

Here are a few things I really didn'
Jason Coleman
Sep 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: greatest-hits
DT Max breezes through the childhood, does a thorough job on the rise and fall and rise of the Broom to Infinite Jest stretch, and gets a little lost during a whirlwind tour of the final decade. Though it wasn't Max's intention—this bio is most def sympathetic toward its subject—he manages to make DFW rather insufferable. I blame this on an inability to find a foothold in the 21st-century leg of the story and his over-reliance on letters (the "biographer's oxygen" he calls them) in which Wallace ...more
Aug 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic-misc, dfw
This is a good source of info about David Foster Wallace, if you're into that sort of thing (and I am). But it's not a very good book.

Wallace was a confusing figure, full of apparent contradictions. You might expect a Wallace biography to open with a set of questions, with some description of how it intends to investigate Wallace's life and what it hopes to get out of that investigation. Instead, Max's book begins with the strangely clunky sentence

Every story has a beginning and this is David Wa
Derek McDow
Jan 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
ELS-isa-GS haunted me but not because it tells of DFW, a brilliant literary titan, who suffered deep psychic trauma and depression but because of the phantoms shadowing the presence of this caricatured history. Everyone is mysteriously absent, hovering just beyond the periphery--his parents, his sister, his many gfs (Mary Karr) and his wife Karen Green, his literary peers (Delillo, Franzen, Costello, editors, agents like Bonnie Nadell), his students, his AA mentors, sponsors & therapists.

D.T. M
Paul Gleason
Sep 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
I began reading Infinite Jest for the first time when my ex-wife and I were flying over the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Rome. This reading was my first experience of DFW, and I remember howling with laughter as perplexed Italians perplexedly looked at the nerdy guy with glasses who couldn't control his hysterical relationship with what appeared to be a copy of what appeared to be . . . a dictionary??!!!

I wasn't laughing at the tremendous material in DFW's very funny mega-novel but laughing with
Sep 20, 2012 rated it liked it
A basically very good intellectual biography, if critically dubious at times, but also filled with unnecessary amounts of detail re DFW's personal life, which sadly is probably what is getting this book to sell as well as it seems to be.

We knew enough about DFW's personal life (depression, addiction, major relationships, etc) before this book came out. All I found out from this book were some personal details about DFW that were of interest to me in that I related to them/was to some extent hap
Oct 25, 2012 rated it liked it
So... I didn't purchase this book because I read a clip on and hated the writing style, and when I read the reviews on the site, they backed me up.

I HATE HATE HATE the way this author writes. Terse, declarative sentence after terse, declarative sentence, it feels like it was written by a sixth grader. Just awful. In addition, it doesn't make sense in parts. In explaining how DFW and his college roommate are different, he mentions that DFW's roommate "doesn't even drink." But literally
Aug 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I don’t usually read literary biographies as a way to reenter a text (in this case, DFW’s Infinite Jest) that my serious reading self thinks I ought to keep reading but that my hedonistic reading self keeps placing a bit lower on my perpetually shifting “to read” list. But that is exactly what I did here. Taking along my copy of Infinite Jest, I went to hear D.T. Max be interviewed by Ian Frazier in my local indie bookstore. The place is tiny, room for perhaps twenty-five or so listeners. My go
Nick Blasier
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The idea of David Foster Wallace's suicide has haunted me since finding out about it, for many reasons. Maybe because when I first found him I unfairly put him on a pedestal that wasn't his - some sort of god-status undeserved by *any* human. I guess now that I understand all people are just that, (even the really really good and inspiring ones,) the impact has been muted. Still, what I knew to be the ending of this story kept feeling threatening and ominous through the whole read - I was scared ...more
Nick Black
Feb 10, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nick by: Tanya
a superficial chronicle researched at about the level of a Vanity Fair longread. fun nonetheless, with some great quotes. upon reading some of DFW's source material (books like Ball Four and Short Circuit), you realize that he ripped off a lot of his base material; D. T. Max's glorified wikipedia article makes it even more clear that whole essential characters and dialogues, especially from infinite jest, were taken directly from life sources (indeed, early DFW flirted with a libel case for "My ...more
M. Sarki
Aug 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Nothing great here, but it was interesting to learn things I did not know. Three stars here means I liked it, which I gratefully did. However, I am not the biggest fan of DT Max, but then again it is I who stands firmly in the camp of the reliably loyal Gordon Lish fans and his athletic supporters. (DT has a problem with clearing important matters up and leaving some things wide open for further discussion.) I was disappointed there wasn't more said on the marriage relationship and the awful str ...more
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D.T. Max is a staff writer for the New Yorker. He lives outside of New York with his wife, two small children and rescued beagle who came to them named Max. He is the author of The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery (Random House) and Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Viking), to be released in paperback in September 2013. ...more

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“Grammar, he saw, was agreement, community, consensus.” 9 likes
“That was it exactly—irony was defeatist, timid, the telltale of a generation too afraid to say what it meant, and so in danger of forgetting it had anything to say.” 6 likes
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