August 13, 2013

Book Club: DFW Bio

'Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story' by D.T. Max

My one complaint about biography's are that they are too long. 400 to 500 page behemoth's detailing every little moment of someone's life. Biographies on politicians are even worse because sometimes they go multiple volumes. 'Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story' suffers from the opposite approach. It's too short.

'Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story' is D.T. Max's biography on author David Foster Wallace is a very good book but it actually needed about 20 more pages to make it a great book.

A little backstory on David Foster Wallace. DFW was the author probably more remembered for his very long book 'Infinite Jest' along with a three short story collections and two books of essays. He committed suicide in 2008 and his unfinished novel 'The Pale King' was released a couple of years ago.

So back to 'Every Love Story is a Ghost Story'. DFW was born on the east coast but lived most of his life in Urbana, Illinois. DFW's father was a teacher at Illinois in philosophy. Both of his parents were academics who favored free thinking over love and emotion. Basically he was raised by a couple of Spocks. And this is where DFW's problems with depression began.

One of the lessons I learned from this book is that kids need love. They need to be hugged and asked if they're alright and listened to. They don't need to just sit in their room and "try to figure things out on their own" like DFW's parents would do with him.

Because of how he was raised DFW suffered from periods of depression and addiction from his early college days at Amherst for basically the next 10 years of his life. In that time DFW published his first novel 'The Broom of the System' and the short story collection 'Girl with Curious Hair'.

Wallace eventually cleaned up via recovery groups and went onto the most creative part of his life. He began reporting and writing essays at Harper's and started writing his magnum opus 'Infinite Jest'. A large portion of 'Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story' is on DFW's writing, editing, battles with copy editors, release, and promotion of 'Infinite Jest'. This is arguably the best part of this biography. The detail in DFW's writing process and his battle's with the copy editors* are definitely the most interesting part of the bio.

*Could you have imagined being a copy editor for an 1,100 page book? I think that would have made me crazy. 

Throughout the book you see the very unflattering part of DFW's life, his relationship with women. Because his own relationship with his cold mother was uncomfortable, the relationships with pretty much every woman he'd been involved with was uncomfortable. Actually quite frankly DFW was a complete scumbag to every woman he'd been involved with until he finally married late in his life. I would go into detail with his relationship with women but let's just say his relationship with a woman who he'd promise to move her and her daughter with him to California was broken off at the last minute was probably the best relationship he had with someone who wasn't his wife.

Finally we get to the part of the book where this book was too short. DFW was working on his last novel 'The Pale King' and living with his wife Karen Green in Pomona, California. DFW is starting to feel depressed again and is trying different methods/medicines to deal with this depression. No longer having the will to live DFW commits suicide. THE END.

The book literally ends with him committing suicide. Nothing on what happened immediately after his death. No retrospective on his career. Nothing on how his last novel 'The Pale King' is finally put together, edited, and released. Nothing. Just he killed himself, the end.

'Every Story Is a Ghost Story' has a perfect pace and length to the very end. This is the rare biography though that needed to be a little bit longer. The audience in my opinion needed a little bit more for this to be the perfect biography. If you're interested in DFW's life and backstory on how he wrote such great fiction and reporting than this book is for you. You might not be as annoyed as I was about the ending.

1 comment:

  1. I'll say this about Max, you can tell he truly loves and respects Wallace's work but he didn't whitewash Wallace's despicable behavior towards women. And yes it needed to be a few pages longer. It just kinda stops.