Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace

David_Foster_Wallace_headshot_2006After reading Cara Buckley’s New York Times piece in Arts and Leisure about Jason Segal’s portrayal of genius novelist David Foster Wallace in an upcoming film, I felt bad about never having read Wallace’s much-proclaimed tome – Infinite Jest.  Have you read it?

With over 5 credits on audible, my quest led me to explore the possibility of listening – but I found more than I had anticipated – Infinite Jest, Part I, over 28 hours; Infinite Jest, part II, over 28 hours, and Infinite Jest, part III with end notes, over 7 hours.  The paperback is over a thousand pages.

Having never read Wallace (I confess), I found his much proclaimed commencement speech – This is Water – free online – both the transcript and a live you tube version.  His writing was quirky yet serious; his message might have been to be consciously present in the present, but my guess is he had a few other nuances to share – maybe over my head and probably over the heads of the graduates he was addressing.  Nonetheless, I liked his style and wanted to read more – but maybe not 1000 pages. A few titles in the library catalog sound promising, among them Consider the Lobster and Other Essays and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.

The movie with Jason Segal is an adaptation of David Lipsky’s book based on interviews during five days spent with Wallace during the 1996 promotion of Infinite JestAlthough Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.  The book was published a year after Wallace committed suicide.  Michael Schaub in his review for NPR writes:

“The world became too much for Wallace, and he’ll never get the chance to see himself proved right. But his fans and his readers at least have this: a startlingly sad yet deeply funny postscript to the career of one of the most interesting American writers of all time.”

The movie sounds promising, and I always like to read the book first, so this might be a good place to start.


David Foster Wallace – The Pale King

Because the author hanged himself at 46, suffered severe depression most of his adult life, was married for 4 years to the artist Karen Green, was best friends with Jonathan Franzen, and had been described as the new voice of American literature, I was curious to read his posthumously published book. Added to that, David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King”was a finalist for this Year’s Pulitzer prize in fiction.

The background to the story of publication reminded me of Toole’s mother with her determination to reveal Confederacy of Dunces to the world – another prize winner. I carefully read the Editor’s 6 page introductory notes; I found Karen Green’s interview; I researched Wallace’s well-received “Infinite Jest.” But none of this prepared me.

Reading the first 2 chapters is like attacking William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” – an intimate yet realistic uncovering of a mind distracted into jumping topics – just as we all do. In this case, Claude Sylvanshine, a GS 13 who works for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is in his emergency row seat on an airplane – thinking. Wallace uses no paragraphing and no dialogue – no help to the reader who must stay focused to keep up with the internal conversation. Unlike Hemingway, he does not use simple sentences, but constructs his thoughts in complex bursts. This is not easy reading.

It is with some irony that I discovered I had “published” this draft by accident – hitting the wrong button on my iPhone. I had planned to read more, include links and pictures, but I could not call it back – no matter my panic in delivering a piece I had not edited. I wonder how Wallace would feel seeing his “work in progress” published.