21 September 2008

R.I.P.: David Foster Wallace

For while there I had this weird thing with writers and death. Like I would read one of their books and they would die. The only one I can remember offhand right now is Burroughs. I read Queer or Junky, I can't remember which, and he died a couple weeks later. I can't remember any of the others right now, but i know it happened about three times in one year and I definitely noticed the pattern. And I know it's just coincidence, I'm absolutely certain of it, but it was eerie nonetheless.

Up until a week ago I hadn't read a novel in about ten years. It's crazy to think about this, but it's true. Well, maybe eight years. But still, a long time. Friends and family would sometimes recommend stuff to me, but I wouldn't bother. I just wasn't into fiction.

I talked to J— at work about this and he gave me a weird theory that made me think for a minute. He said you can't trust non-fiction because the writer invariably tells the story through his own perspective. Like, objectivity is impossible, therefore all non-fiction is inherently bullshit. With fiction, on the other hand, you always know where you stand: the writer made it up, no grey area about it. I don't necessarily agree with this, but it's worth contemplating. J—'s a lot smarter than he thinks he is.

Anyway, I used to read fiction and really enjoy some of it. I actually read Infinite Jest, all 1,000 pages of it, footnotes and all, and loved it. I've tried to read Pynchon but, other then Lot 49, found his work impenetrable. Infinite Jest was clearly in the same category of works like Gravity's Rainbow but was, as I've told countless people to whom I've recommended it, surprisingly accessible. It had just as many big, complicated ideas as the work of plenty of other postmodernists, but the prose, on a sentence by sentence basis, could actually be understood by the average reader. As an average reader myself, maybe that's why I liked it so much.

I loved Wallace's non-fiction work as well, just as much, maybe more. OK, not more, but just as much. I got Consider the Lobster about a year ago and loved it, except for the fact that I had already read a few of the pieces. You see, I was so into Wallace's work that when I found out he had a new one out I would make an effort to find it and read it. I can still remember when I found out about that piece he write pseudonymously for Premiere about the porn awards. I was so excited I called K— in Atlanta and told him to go buy it, pronto, don't miss it, don't be fooled by the name, etc. He was living with E— at the time and she's a big fan, so I know she read it too. I bought the e-book of Up, Simba, printed it out at work, and gave a nice bound copy to G— so he could read it too. He was a fan like me. And when you were a fan of Wallace, you couldn't wait to share his latest missive with other fans. He was that captivating.

So when people like the wife or my mother would recommend novels to me, my stock response for a while was that I would read fiction again when Wallace released another novel. I didn't care for fiction, but if there was ever a follow-up to Infinite Jest I'd be first in line. I said it like I was half-joking, but I really wasn't joking at all. I don't give a shit about fiction (right now), but I'll read absolutely anything that comes out under Wallace's byline, fiction or non-.

So a couple weeks ago I got to talking to the aforementioned J— at work and mentioned that I had moved Paul Schrader's Mishima to the top of my Netflix list, based primarily on the recommendation of the Norwegian guy that directed Reprise, in a Times profile. J— was familiar with Mishima's work (I had never heard of him), and offered to loan me one of his books. I hemmed, hawed and replied whatever, and the following Tuesday night J— handed me his copy of The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea.

So I read it. After multiple years of saying I wouldn't read another novel until Wallace wrote one, I read it. It was OK. Not great, but pretty good. It was good but at the same time reminded me why I don't read fiction. A lot of delicate, austere prose without a lot of information. I like absorbing information. I guess that's why I prefer non-fiction.

A week later Wallace fucking killed himself. Less than a week. Less than a week after I finished the fucking book.

I finally read a novel and now the guy I was holding out for is gone. Who knows why? I'll bet when they go through his stuff they'll find a 5,000-page, woefully directionless, unfinished mess. And man, I'd love to read it.

I know it's just a coincidence, I know this has nothing to do with me, but I can't help thinking way in the back of my mind that he gave up because I quit holding out for him. I know it's bullshit, but it's my bullshit. I hadn't read a novel in years, I always said I was holding out for Wallace, then I finally read one and less that a week later he fucking killed himself. Let me wallow in my arrogant, self-centered misery a little, will you?

Life is shit. Enjoy it while you can.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry. I couldn't read all of this. I'm in a bad mood. But I got turned off at J--'s premise. Of course nonfiction is not objective. He's confusing the term/concept of nonfiction with Truth. If I wrote an essay describing how I walked to work today, that would be nonfiction. But everything about it is completely subjective, as all my perceptions are mine. My walk to work written by another person watching me walk to work would also be nonfiction and would also be completely subjective. Neither fiction NOR nonfiction is objective. Christ.