Belatedly, I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of David Foster Wallace by his own hand on September 12 at the age of just 46. On such occasions, hyberbole – ‘greatest writer of his generation’, ‘truly unique’ and ‘the loss to literature is immeasurable’ – is pretty much par for the course. The difference in DFW’s case is that it’s all true. It’s difficult to think of another fiction writer who so successfully embraced the dizzying plurality and discourses of our times – and did it so well.
DFW was not so well known in the UK as he was in the States. But he was very much the writer’s writer, and some of the most successful younger novelists – Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen among them – cite him as both example and influence. It seems to me that his legacy will only continue to grow as fiction writers continue to negotiate an age of relentless acquisition, corporate doublespeak, advertising, focus groups and trash TV.
In addition to his outstanding and frequently downright hilarious body of fiction, DFW was also a celebrated essayist, gifted teacher, mathematician and philosopher, and one-time tennis prodigy.
He will be much missed.
If you want an introduction to the delights of DFW’s fiction, read ‘Mister Squishy’ from his 2004 short story collection, Oblivion. Then read everything else in it. Then read his modern masterpiece Infinite Jest. Enjoy and be awed.
A sensitive and intelligent tribute to DFW can be found here
To read a recent speech given by David Foster Wallace click here