The first comprehensive biography of David Foster Wallace traces the life of a very complicated man with both honesty and respect. Rather than utilize a dry timeline, D.T. Max relies on the words Wallace left behind. Everything from early poems to college essays to letters to works of fiction are aligned as a means to recount Wallace’s life. This refreshing approach offers amazing personal insight into a man that left a distinctive mark on the literary landscape.

Wallace had a personality that oscillated between a buoyant, confident individual to one crippled by self-consciousness and depression, all of which was evident in his unique style of writing. Everything in his life went into his writing and influenced his perspective and philosophy. Family, friends, roommates, and co-workers were all fair game for characters as were his surroundings whether it be the Midwest, rehab, or a college campus. He let life inspire him, even when it seemed to be his mortal enemy.

With the kind of brutal honesty Wallace would appreciate, Max shows no fear in showcasing personal flaws that run the gamut of arrogance and self doubt. Through drug and alcohol addiction, writer’s block, volatile relationships, and severe bouts of depression, Max lets Wallace speak through his letters to friends and family. Despite recurrences of darkness, it was interesting to see Wallace’s trademark humor lived in more than just his books.  He was sharp, witty, and unrelenting in his observations about the world and himself. Much like his books, Wallace was always trying to find the ultimate truth of existence.

I’ve always believed David Foster Wallace saw the world the way it needed to be seen. He eyed it with the curiosity of a child, but through the lens of a playfully cynical adult.  He had his demons and they haunted him from a very young age. Try as he may to fight them, he could not win against the “bad thing” that devoured him.

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c.b.w. 2012

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