I’ll be honest, this book took me a long time to get through. It was a marvelous, meticulous, fascinating read that was also dense and complex. A work to steep oneself in, taking the time to truly understand the literary life along with the personal path of David Foster Wallace (DFW). Or, to put it a different way, reading it any faster would have fried my brain with the overload of details and tangents that entangle the entire book. To offer D.T. Max the highest compliment, Every love story is a ghost story: a life of David Foster Wallace, reads like DFW’s Infinite jest, with beautiful, jam-packed sentences, ever-moving story and scenes, and the requisite multitude of jarring and subdued endnotes that keep the reader flipping back and forth to break up the reading experience. Nicely done, Max, nicely done! This biography masqueraded as fiction most of the time, as it was so well-crafted and focused on telling a rich tale, which I loved because I am not typically a fan of non-fiction.
This sense of familiarity between Max with DFW creates a closeness for readers, taking us on the life and literary journey as it is told. The literary portion entwines with the biographical details to show that both inform each other for DFW, which feels genuine and likely the truth for DFW. We sit with him in his apartment, walls covered in written passages of his current writing endeavor along with his correspondence with author friends, as he struggles to work and his dogs run a-muck. We contemplate with him about the influence and inspiration of other writing on his own. Having not read all of DFW’s works that Max discusses, I felt like I missed out on the insight of Max’s literary criticisms for those works. For the portion about DFW writing and publicizing Infinite Jest I felt much more connected to the story, having read that work. Max has an amazing ability to succinctly interpret and offer profound criticism of DFW’s writing in powerful sentences that hint at a depth below the surface comment. This became apparent to me during this portion, so I want to now read other DFW works and re-read corresponding passages in this book to understand them both better.
Max conveys DFW in all of his complexity, which I appreciate because I completely changed the image of DFW in my mind from very little about what I actually knew about him. DFW struggled in many aspects of life, even with his writing, but he forever strived to be better, remain sober, and a genuine person. His personal change and growth during his lifetime is incredible and he shared his lessons with anyone he could, including young writings who were as idealistic and cocky as he had been. Max provides a clear, factual, and balanced perspective on DFW and his life, which is refreshing because it never becomes emotional nor feels distant. It is as if we are living life along with DFW and that is the sign of a true writer, when they fade from the pages and the reader is caught up in the writing and people.
The biography is crafted as if it was written by a close friend or even sibling, and in a few instances as if by DFW himself due to the amount of insight and deep knowledge not only about what DFW’s personal history but also his inner thoughts and feelings. Throughout reading this, I believed that Max and DFW knew each other very well, however, Max admits in the first sentence of his acknowledgments at the end of the book that he never actually met DFW, merely saw him once from afar. That makes this biography all the more profound and stunning, since 5 of the 6 pages of acknowledgements list the names of everyone who knew DFW well and contributed stories, letters, notes, and personal history about then man that they loved and admired, despite the likely pain and sadness that the remembrances caused even a couple of years after his suicide. Max represents DFW’s personal struggles matter-of-factly and builds subtly towards what could be an emotional, dramatic climax but Max resists sensationalism, ending simply and plainly with great respect for DFW and his work.
Recommended?: For those who love DFW, are interested in learning more about him and his life, anyone wanting to read his work but hasn’t yet (as this is a good taste of what he and it is like), and fans of biographies or literary criticism. Okay, let’s through in aspiring, or current, writers since this is a well-written book and DFW offers much advice throughout. If you enjoy and can finish this biography, you are ready for Infinite Jest. Keep in mind, both require two bookmarks (one for endnotes in the back).