Monday, September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace

I want to take a moment from campaign goings-on to comment on the tragically early death of the writer David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide on Friday on California, at the age of 46. Foster was a brilliant writer whose novels ("Infinite Jest" and "The Broom of the System") and collections of short stories and reportage were manic, multi-layered looks at contemporary society. Wallace was apparently deeply depressed. To show how politics never quite leaves us this election year, several commentators on Michiko Kakutani's appraisal of Wallace on the NY Times website claimed, not at all facetiously, that it was probably Sarah Palin's choice as vice-president which put Wallace over the edge. Poor taste, but somewhat understandable, since this was a writer who understood the bleak absurdity to be found in America's ability to turn anything into a brand, even a vice-presidential candidate.
Way back in 1989, as a copywriter at the Quality Paperback Book Club, I met Wallace when he was awarded QPB's "New Voices" Award for his story collection "The Girl With Curious Hair." He was so shy about receiving the $5,000 check that the editorial director had to present it to him in private. He did come to the luncheon. He was a rumple-haired young man with his arm in a sling from some mishap, and very reticent, but with a disarmingly sweet smile. In those days we had a lot of writers coming through for lunches at the book club, and many of them, from days of being on tour and answering interview questions, had become rather slick. But Foster seemed overwhelmed even by the attention paid to him by our little group of book club employees, so I can see how later acclaim may have been hard for him to handle. It's hard to hear of his death, however, because it's rare when you get such talent combined with such genuine humility.

No comments: