D.T. Max

D.T. Max has expanded his 2008 New Yorker postmortem into Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Viking, $27.95). He uncovered over 700 letters from Wallace to friends, family, and fellow writers (including Don DeLillo and Jonathan Franzen), and interviewed over 200 friends and acquaintances. During a recent sit-down, we asked how he compressed all that into 300 pages. "It's actually longer than the biography I anticipated doing," says Max. "My intuition was that I wanted to tell a story. I wanted the story to be very alive, just as he was recently very alive. I didn't want it to feel in amber. I wanted it to feel like he could walk into the room the minute you put the book down." What is it about Infinite Jest that caused it to be so influential, even today? "It's a brilliant piece of work. A brilliant way to write a novel. A brilliant way to capture fragility, anxiety, our messed-up media, saturated environment. David's moral progression was such that he becomes someone of whom people care, and people feel that he cared about them. Once you have that key, Infinite Jest becomes an even more rewarding work, because you're able to imagine yourself as somebody on whom David has lavished a similar amount of care and attention as he lavishes on Infinite Jest characters Don Gately or Hal." You did a Q&A for The New Yorker following your original article and wrote, "Some suicides seemed destined, but I never felt this was true of Wallace." Do you still believe that? "I believe it less. His decision to be a writer comes out of a breakdown, and it was always tied closely to his mental health." ERIC SUNDERMANN

Sat., Sept. 22, 2 p.m., 2012

 
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