Thursday, February 03, 2011

Friday Fiction: David Foster Wallace: Brilliance and Darkness

--by Hanje Richards

David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 ā€“ September 12, 2008) was an American author of novels, essays, and short stories, and a professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He was widely known for his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, which Time included in its "All-Time 100 Greatest Novels" list (covering the period 1923ā€“2006).

Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin called Wallace "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years."

In the early 1990s, Wallace had a relationship with the poet and memoirist Mary Karr. Wallace married painter Karen L. Green on December 27, 2004.

Wallace committed suicide by hanging himself on September 12, 2008, as confirmed by the October 27, 2008 autopsy report.

In an interview with The New York Times, Wallace's father reported that Wallace had suffered from depression for more than 20 years and that antidepressant medication had allowed him to be productive. When he experienced severe side effects from the medication, Wallace attempted to wean himself from his primary antidepressant, phenelzine.

On his doctor's advice, Wallace stopped taking the medication in June 2007, and the depression returned. Wallace received other treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy. When he returned to phenelzine, he found it had lost its effectiveness. In the months before his death, his depression became severe.
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Girl With Curious Hair - Included in this collection is a novella that examines, among other things, post-modernism. His stories explore popular culture through the lives of a variety of characters: a lesbian with a three-year winning streak on Jeopardy, an actress anxious about appearing on David Letterman, a wealthy Republican yuppie who has a disturbing connection with some punk rockers; and Lyndon Johnson in a close up that shows how well a historical figure can be used in fiction. (CQL)
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Infinite Jest: A Novel - A gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the Pursuit of Happiness in America. Set in an addicts' halfway house and a tennis academy, and featuring the most endearingly screwed-up family to come along in recent fiction, the novel explores essential questions about what entertainment is and why it has come to so dominate our lives; about how our desire for entertainment affects our need to connect with other people; and about what the pleasures we choose say about who we are. Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction without sacrificing for a moment its own entertainment value. (CQL)

Oblivion - One story in the book, "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature," assembles a typical Wallaceian absurdity: a paroled, autodidactic arachnophile accompanies his mother, the victim of plastic surgery malpractice ("the cosmetic surgeon botched it and did something to the musculature of her face which caused her to look insanely frightened at all times"), on a bus ride to a lawyer's office. Another, "The Suffering Channel," moves from the grotesque to the gross-out, as a journalist for Style (a celebrity magazine) pursues a story about a man whose excrement comes out as sculpture. The title story, about a man and wife driven to visit a sleep clinic, is narrated by the husband, who soon reveals himself to be the tedious idiot his father-in-law takes him for. (CQL)

A Supposedly Fun Thing Iā€™ll Never Do Again: Essays and Argument - In "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley," Wallace presents himself as a young Midwest tennis star with an unathletic, intuitive, yet winning style of play. But, Wallace writes about far more than the sum of his self, widening his field of vision to embrace wind, earth, and mathematics, creating a virtual cyclone with his highly idiosyncratic perceptions, perfectly correct cadence, and casually hip lexicon. He applies this arsenal of literary power tools to even greater effect in one of the most original, comprehensive analyses yet of television and the pervasive "culture of watching," discussing such fine points as the tyranny of television's institutionalized, self-referential irony and its tremendous influence on American fiction. Wallace has also written in his edgy way about David Lynch, a state fair, and, in the masterful title piece, his addling experiences on a seven-night Caribbean cruise during which he endured hours of despair interrupted by moments of stunned amazement. (ILL)