The Wallace Industry

Pretty sober, fair take on some recent books to come out of the literary estate of David Foster Wallace. Once heard someone in conversation refer to Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story as the Us Weekly of DFW biographies. Sounded about right to me.

It is interesting, plus a little scary, to see what the details in Ghost Story ultimately orbit, if not Wallace’s character. Max intimates this at one point: “Now Wallace was wondering whether he hadn’t become a literary statue, ‘the version of myself’ as he wrote a friend at the time, ‘that I want others to mistake for the real me.’ The statue was ‘a Mask, a Public Self, False Self or Object-Cathect.’”

At times, Ghost Story makes exactly this mistake, confusing the statue of Wallace for Wallace himself. The former is after all much easier to describe. A literary icon is an idealized, essentially inhuman thing —“to make someone an icon is to make him an abstraction . . . incapable of vital communication with living people,” Wallace wrote. And it is this icon—this statue—that Max describes when he resorts to apotheosis and caricature. Hence all of the references to Wallace’s “brilliant mind,” his notoriously crippling self-consciousness, his “A-plus” grades, his “real religion” as language, his footnoted tattoo, his veiled computer as a “site of a sacral mystery,” his bandana. No biographer would deny these details, even if they are the bywords and platitudes of Wallace’s literary deification. Yet if they are not buttressed by vibrant and psychologically sound characterization, then all that’s all they are.

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While this piece may be sober, it is in no way fair, Scott. In fact it’s full of misrepresentations and inaccuracies. I’ve posted a rejoinder comment at the bottom of the review.

Several years after DFW’s death, I was finally able to write this incredibly moving and heartfelt summation of my thoughts:


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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