Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I don't keep up with contemporary fiction like I ought to, and David Foster Wallace was one of those names I've seen referred to countless times without ever having read the man's work. I may have to remedy that, morbidly, after his recent death from reported suicide. I probably don't have time for his 1,000+ page magnum opus Infinite Jest, but I may have to find his aptly titled story collection Oblivion. So "the black dog" claims another creative genius.

There is good reason to try to appreciate a book in its own right without reference to the author's biography, but some particularly salient facts are sometimes hard to keep out of awareness, and an author's medical history and cause of death qualify. After all, Flannery O'Connor's works certainly take on a new dimension of meaning in light of her painful struggle and early demise from lupus, and reading Albert Camus might be a somewhat different experience if he had died in bed at 90 rather than having been struck by a car in his 40's.

Suicide threatens to overshadow an author's work to the point of obscuring it, although as depression comes to be viewed more as a legitimate disease, this effect seems to be lightening some overall. But it is hard to read Sylvia Plath, for instance, without having some background cognizance of the legend that her suicide helped to create. I think that for those in love with words and stories the suicides of writers are ultimately humbling: words can do only so much.


Anonymous said...

After falling in crazed love with Infinite Jest, I read all the DFW I could find, but even I didn't made it through Oblivion. Since I want you to fall in crazed love too, I'd like to recommend you start somewhere else -- maybe The Girl With Curious Hair? or any of the essays?

Novalis said...

Interesting--was he falling off a bit toward the end due to worsening depression I wonder?

Thanks for the recommendation.