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David Foster Wallace, R.I.P.

I have a confession to make: I never finished Infinite Jest.

I got about 200 pages into it---probably 250 when you count the endnotes---but it just never grabbed me, so I sent out a mass e-mail to several friends of mine who had read it and asked, "Does this all come together eventually? Is it worth it?" A future honors graduate in English replied that the writing was superb (which I knew already) but that reading Infinite Jest was somewhat like listening to a virtuoso guitar player who had mastered many different styles, but whose every tune sounded like practicing, as though he were constantly warming up for the concert that never came.

Another respondent replied that the novel, while well-written, was aptly criticized by the reviewer who called it The Emperor’s New Book. Accordingly, I set Infinite Jest aside and have not picked it up since, so I was not so enamored with David Foster Wallace that I mistook him for being the fellow who first used the standard legal convention "&c" for "etc." Nevertheless, when I saw at Carolina March that Wallace had hanged himself, I was saddened to a greater extent than ordinarily is the case upon learning of a celebrity’s passing.

In a weird way, Wallace will always occupy a special spot in my personal journey through life. He wrote a marvelous essay about my favorite director, David Lynch, when "Lost Highway" was released, and I cited---rebutted, actually, or, at least, attempted to rebut---Wallace’s position in an essay of my own on Lynch’s penchant for happy endings, which appeared in a 1997 issue of Wrapped in Plastic. It was the first time I had ever been paid for something I wrote.

Wallace had very little influence upon me as a writer. Faulkner, Foote, Percy, Styron, both Wolfes, and, heck, Grizzard made much more of an impact on me than Wallace ever did. Nevertheless, he was a talented writer and it was sad to see that talent squandered on something as selfish and stupid as suicide.

William Faulkner said that every author’s biography should consist of just eight words: "He wrote the works and then he died." The correctness of his point is confirmed by the fact that we aren’t altogether sure who wrote the works of William Shakespeare, and our not knowing makes not one whit of difference.

David Foster Wallace was as effective as any writer of his generation in fulfilling the first four words of his biography. It is a shame he was in too big a hurry to get the last four words into the books. What there was of his life was well spent practicing; I’m sorry we never got to hear the concert.

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