Nathan Bransford, Author

Sunday, September 14, 2008

RIP David Foster Wallace

Wow. Just incredibly sad news. We've lost an unbelievable talent.


Anonymous said...

I admired him more than just about any current writer. It is incredibly sad to lose this brilliant, uniquely talented man. At an utter loss for words, and a little sick to my stomach.

Darby said...

horrible news

Steven said...

uncanny news

writerross said...

The aura of suicide is too much with me, alas, radiating from those I know both intimately and from afar.

It pains me to learn a great writer has left this world and left in pain.

Thanks for letting us know. I hope there is peace for him, still, somewhere.

-Pamela Ross

Famous Quotations said...

Your site has won a Blog of the Day Award (BOTDA)

Award Code

Thank you,

Bill Austin

Maris Bosquet said...

Alas, here was a writer whose books I am heartily embarrassed not to have read.

My heart goes out to his wife, who reportedly found him.

There is nothing to compare with being left behind by a suicide. Two weeks ago, a man we knew dispatched himself by jumping from an overpass into traffic on the Garden state Parkway. Nobody knows why. We toss around possible reasons until we can do no more than throw up our hands, shake our heads and go on with our own lives.

Dori said...

That is so sad.

Trée said...

I was shocked when I stumbled upon the news last night. Thoughts and prayers for the family. We have indeed lost a prodigious talent.

Madison said...

Why would anyone want to kill themselves? It doesn't make sense!

Anonymous said...

Sad news.


Polly Kahl said...

Very sad. I hope he's found peace. Feel very sad for his wife as well.

bryan russell said...

I was eighteen. It was just after christmas, and I had gift money to burn as I walked through the local Chapters bookstore. I told myself I wanted to try something utterly new, a book by a writer I had not yet read or heard of. It was free money, right? And with free money comes a certain freedom.

Walking through the aisles I happened upon a huge and ungainly tome by the name of Infinite Jest. I picked it up, and then put it down again... but something told me to pick it up again. A certain heft, the softness of its pages, perhaps the title, the almost incandescent blurbs praising the story... Perhaps it simply felt right in my hadn. Needless to say, I walked out of the store with the book, and what followed was an experience that changed my understanding of the possibilities of fiction, and, really, of language itself.

There are true wizards out there, and David Foster Wallace was one of them. He led me through a fascination with the post-modernists, and thorugh many other shadowed and ill lit corners of the literary world, and, what's more, he gave me a new conception of literary ambition, and a new way to frame the dreams I poured out onto the pages of my word processor.

For many years now, one of my keeneest hopes as a reader was to walk up to the W section in the fiction aisles of a bookstore and find a new David Foster Wallace novel waiting there. 'W' has always been a letter of hope, a delightful "what if..." of possibility.

It seems that will never happen now, and that is a loss. I never met the man, but I met his writing, and it changed me. And what more should be said about a man other than that he made a postive mark on the world before he left it?

It's a debt I can't repay, of course, except to write the best stories I can, in the best ways that I can find. Would that I could leave as fine a mark with my own words.

Pamala Knight said...

This is so very sad. A great loss to the literary world.


I loved this guy's works. Exquisite. Sad news!

Anonymous said...

I am crying.

nona said...

I wonder what kind of client DFW was from his literary agent's perspective. Here are his thoughts on book tours as evidenced by a note he left on the office door of the university where he taught creative writing:

"D.F. Wallace is out of town on weird personal authorized emergencyish leave from 2/17/96 to 3/3/96 and from 3/5/96 to 3/10/96."

He reminds me of most of the people I went to art school with: not of this world.

Elyssa Papa said...

This is incedibly sad news.

jerzegurl said...

Said news... it pains me that depression is so rampant in our society and has such a stigma attached to mental health issues.

Anonymous said...

I think the best books and music are the ones that impact you so much that you associate them with the time you first experienced them. Infinite Jest is that kind of book to me. I can still remember riding the metro and flipping from the main text to the paper clip I kept at the end notes. It was just about impossible to read Wallace without learning something, whether it was a unique perspective on 9/11 or a thoughtful look at addiction and society.*

*I know it's cliche, but he will be missed.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I was shocked. Sad news.


A hanged man.
A display of surrender.
A moment of disconnection.
A saboteur of Self
A blessing to late.wv

Lisa said...

OMG, his poor wife.

relentless said...

I'm quite new to this, but I would like you to take a look at my blog and see if you find it interesting enough to post a link to it on yours.

If not, thank you for your consideration anyways, and great blog!

Furious D said...

I feel sorry for his family.

Especially the wife who found him, since my research has led me to know something of the mechanics of death and dying. It's terrible for all involved.

J.P. Kurzitza said...

Very tragic, terrible news. But also a very sad, and selfish act.

abc said...

Nona wrote: He reminds me of most of the people I went to art school with: not of this world.

I don't know. One of the things I really love about DFW is that despite being so smart, genius really, and so cool and so incredibly talented and amazing, he seemed like he was of this world. He watched the same movies and the same tv shows we all do. You felt like you could talk to him about how much Anna Faris in Just Friends makes you laugh and so you find yourself watching scenes of it over and over again on HBO or whatever when you should be cleaning your house or writing your novel and he wouldn't judge you. He might laugh too. I felt like I could have a beer with the guy and do some giggling and feel understood.

I'm just so sad about it. It feels like such a loss to the world.

mikeandlorisbigadventures said...

Dear Sirs
would you have any intrest in a book about how the government murdered my mother, drug my name thru a lengthy court battle, to keep from taking resposiblity for their actions, not limited to the city and county attorneys, the da, the police, the social service network and medical entities that helped murder my mother thru their total incompetence! Me and my Mothers story needs to be told on a grand scale, so other senior americans know how to combat this type of governmental intrusion on their civil and legal rights. the stories i have to tell about what has happened to me and her over the last 3 years are gripping and shocking. No american born citizen should have been put what we were put thru over the last 3 years only to end up with the Murder of my beloved mother! will any one ever be brought to justice for these crimes! do average american citizens really think they have any right's anymore in this country, then they have not heard mine and my mothers story.
thanks for your time.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...


You have no email address for anyone to email you privately.

I can't make sense of your 1-post lighthearted blog and what you have posted here.

Also are you sure you're looking for a literary agent - maybe you want a news outlet to pick your story up???

Also - are there any organizations that you can join, of people who have gone through the same (or similar) experience(s)? Strength in numbers. Maybe you can put all of your stories together in a book, and try and pitch that.

Take a deep breath. Take care.

Wanda B.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I wonder about...despair and unbelievable talent.

I read something about being smart in one area, and how people generalize and think they're smart at EVERYTHING. And they had interviewed people who were really, really good at one thing (or two, or three)...and then when they went to try something outside their field of expertise (whatever it was), they were surprised to find they had a hard time picking it up! "Well now, if I'm good at geometry, marine biology must be a snap!" Etc. And then they struggle memorizing all those mollusks.

And I just wonder with super-talented, intuitive, sensitive, hyperverbal people, really emotional types who must express themselves, maybe they just can't wrap their heads around the idea they need help, and maybe lots of it, emotionally?

I mean, think of it, you're a great writer, so insightful into human nature in your novels! And there's someone with an MA in social work, 20 years younger than you, recommending you go into group therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy - and they proceed to give you weekly homework assignments! You, the award-winning writer! In group therapy with a bunch of people who can hardly verbalize their feelings!

Maybe someone like that just can't get their head around it.

Although, reading about Lehman Brothers AND Merrill Lynch...I would say, on some level...the despair is palpable. I mean, I can understand my own poetry-induced financial nightmares - but Merrill Lynch???? WHAT is going on?

Fortune cookie mantra of the day: Strength in numbers / grow pumpkins.

Scott said...

A somewhat macabre experience to have posted about him a few blog entries ago and then to read this. The experience is made only worse when you discover he took his own life and we don't get any clues as to "why". It's a double clobber of the most depressing kind. Is genius a sickness?


Helen DeWitt said...

wanda b., I think, given DFW's treatment of AA in Infinite Jest, that he could probably get his head around it.

Robena Grant said...

Sad, sad news. My heart goes out to his wife and family.

cc said...

I love much of DFW work, and his book of essays, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," is one of my top favorite books of all time. And yes, I'm the girl that bought Infinite Jest it's first week out -- and read and loved ever juicy footnote. Still, to this day when I'm in a bookstore I'll walk by DFW's shelf just to admire it's thickness, it's sheer demand to be given admiration, amidst the other, breezy and easy-to-read books.

What an amazing talent. So sad for his family.

Anonymous said...

re: (Madison @ 8:57 question) Why would anyone want to kill themselves, it doesn't make sense.

That's just it, it doesn't. Diseases often don't make sense. Like cancer -- why would a body's cells suddenly start attacking other cells?

Depression is a disease, not a weakness. When clinically depressed, i.e., not just sad, but your own brain's levels of seratonin (sp) are so decreased you no longer have a sense of well-being. What was once lucid becomes an angry black mess of unsurmountability.

My heart goes out to him. May he finally get the peace he so deserved.

Adaora A. said...

R.I.P. Why are all of these great authors dying. OK I know they don't live forever but it still is incredibly sad.

m clement hall said...

Link to the Los Angeles Times obituary.,0,6215648.story

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

m clement hall said...

New York Times obituary

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "I think, given DFW's treatment of AA in Infinite Jest, that he could probably get his head around it."

Yes, but...DFW killed himself...he didn't call a sponsor and then decide to attend an AA meeting. He didn't check into a psych ward. He didn't make an appointment to see a therapist on Monday. He didn't put into action a "safety plan" or use any cognitive behavioural techniques. He didn't call a psychiatrist to see if his meds could be increased. He just killed himself.

There's the writing...and then there's the person, just like anybody else. I have a relative who hung himself on Labor Day; a friend who committed suicide with a hose from the exhaust pipe to the back window of a car; there was a homeless man who shot himself in the woods behind a fast food restaurant I worked in; then a classmate's 25-year-old nephew killed himself; then a fast food co-worker's 14-year-old brother shot himself in the mouth with a shotgun because his girlfriend broke up with him.

All male, all "successful" suicides. Is DFW so different? I wish they taught a class in MFA programs about mental health issues and creativity, and about taking care of yourself. I just saw a poster in Ann Arbor advertising a walkathon or something for Suicide Prevention. It was Suicide Prevention Day (or week), and I think this is a good thing, even if it lacks the texture and drama of weighty despair collapsing in on a vulnerable sensitive person.

I can remember in high school reading Crossing the Water by Sylvia Plath, and then looking her up in the Writer's Who Who, and finding out she was a suicide. Thanks a lot Sylvia Plath, you just made it harder for female poets coming after you. Why'd you have to drink so much damn bourbon and stick your head in an oven? And then the whole thing gets mythologized.

I guess I feel a little mad at DFW...thanks a lot, you just made it that much easier for a young male writer to follow you into suicide.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Here's David Foster Wallace on AA, from a Newsweek interview [second bolding mine]:


David Foster Wallace, son of a philosophy professor and an English teacher, lives outside Bloomington, Ill., and teaches English at Illinois State. Last week he talked with Newsweek's Ray Sawhill about tennis and Alcoholics Anonymous, two subjects of his novel "Infinite Jest."

NEWSWEEK: What's your history with tennis?

WALLACE: I played serious Juniors, but I burned out. I play twice a week with friends.

And with 12-step groups?

I went with friends to an open AA meeting and got addicted to them. It was completely riveting. I was never a member -- I was a voyeur. When I ended up really liking it was when I let people there know this and they didn't care.

Was it therapeutic?

At that point, I was paralyzed about writing, and I was watching too much TV. Here were these guys in leather and tattoos sounding like Norman Vincent Peale, but week after week they were getting better. And I'd go home and work. Going to coffee houses and talking about literary theory certainly hadn't helped any. Have you read the book?"

ORION said...

I am saddened by this and remember when my sister in law killed herself. The family has never recovered.
Everyone tries to look back and second guess...
Very painful for those close to him and to his readers.
He has left a legacy in Infinite Jest.

nona said...

"The theme of addiction carried over to the writing itself, with some friends thinking he had vanished or weirded out. 'It made it difficult to be a good friend and to get really immersed in other people's problems because I was trying to remember whether somebody was left-handed from 350 pages ago or something like that,' he said."

First of all, I will never write a 350 page book, let alone a 1000 page book. Secondly, whenever I hear about other ppl's problems -- and I do, every day -- especially if they're interesting, one of my subplots'll immmediately do a 180 and that person's problems and all of the ramifications thereof will get folded into the story, like raisins into bread dough.

I hope to God I never lose that connection with other ppl. It will be the end of me.

Anonymous said...

Wanda, I believe your anger is causing you to make inappropriate assumptions about things you can't know. According to Bruce Weber, writing in the New York Times:

"His father said Sunday that Mr. Wallace had been taking medication for depression for 20 years and that it had allowed his son to be productive. It was something the writer didn’t discuss, though in interviews he gave a hint of his haunting angst.....

"James Wallace said that last year his son had begun suffering side effects from the drugs and, at a doctor’s suggestion, had gone off the medication in June 2007. The depression returned, however, and no other treatment was successful. The elder Wallaces had seen their son in August, he said.

“'He was being very heavily medicated,' he said. 'He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.'”

Michelle Moran said...

Very, very sad. He taught at my alma mater, and though I wasn't fortunate enough to have him as a teacher, I know writers who did and they all said his courses were transforming.

Other Lisa said...

Terrible. So painful to hear about his struggles with depression, that he tried and tried and tried and nothing worked for him.

My thoughts are with his family, who struggled with him.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "Wanda, I believe your anger is causing you to make inappropriate assumptions"

Anger, pain, fear, loss, empty holes caused by people's suicides (plural) - when I read about the "heavily medicated" and "electro-convulsive therapy" - I am just reminded of Sylvia Plath - pre-feminist movement and all the other movements of the 60s - I am reminded of how academia has its own emotional norms - i.e., take medication and undergo ECT - rather than, I am in touch with my feelings, I am in a rage about X, Y, or Z, and therefore I chose to transform my life, inconvenient and absurd though it may be to others.

I'm thinking of Martin Luther King Jr...he was full of rage and despair...but he battled on until someone took him down...I remember being in an MFA program, and it was MLK Day, and there was a film that showed striking garbage workers with sandwich boards that read: "I Am Somebody."

Three simple words. I Am Somebody. More inspirational to me than anything from my MFA program, in terms of keeping on as a writer and a human being.

I mean, maybe what Americans in pain need is more MLK and X, and less ECT and SSRIs??

Isley Brothers: "Fight it/fight the power," - even if it's your own despair, pain, anger, rage, privilege, assumptions about manhood, womanhood, being a good provider, race, sexual orientation, whatever it is.

Over and out on this subject. RIP DFW.

Anonymous said...

Not only are you assuming you know what's best for other people, you're also changing your story. First you chastised DFW for not "checking into a psych ward" or "calling a psychiatrist to see if his meds could be increased," and now you're decrying academia's "emotional norms" and criticizing the choice to take meds or undergo ECT instead of getting in touch with one's feelings and choosing to transform one's life.

How could you possibly know what kind of work DFW (or anyone else for that matter) did to try to change his life? You don't.

Let him RIP by granting him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he did all he could.

Anonymous said...

to Wanda B whatever the rest of your name is...

I'm dumbfounded at your remarks about DFW -- to make a gross generalization about an entire section of creative people -- "I am reminded of how academia has it's own emotional norms, i.e., take medication and undergo ECT -- rather than, I am in touch with my feelings..."

Yes, God forbid, if you are clinically depressed and thinking of suicide, don't reach out for a doctor's help like DFW did (however unsuccessfully) but, instead be in touch with your feelings?

Are you kidding me?

Depression is a DISEASE. It is not cured by cute sayings on MLK Day. Or maybe a depressed person should sing Kum ba ya... that might help.

Perphaps you should stop talking about things you know nothing about and just say, There but for the grace of God, go I.

Robyn McIntyre said...

I didn't know of DFW, but the outpouring of praise for his work and grief at his loss makes him now a must-read for me.

It's unfortunate that I'll be reading through the filter of his suicide.

My late husband, like commenter Madison, could not understand why suicide might be considered an option. As someone who has attempted suicide twice and who has volunteered with suicide prevention, I can say that the operative word for "why?" is pain. When one is severely depressed, one cannot see or think clearly. The mind is in a smothering fog where no path out can be found and all questions and answers lead back upon themselves. It isn't reality, but it is real for you. You don't ask for help because you can't; you no longer know how. Your emotions build up. They seem distorted and uncontrollable. You don't want to be like this. You hate it. You hate living like this. But you can't see far enough to know that you can get past it. You're stuck in the fog with your emotions beating against you and unable to make your mind work properly. You just get so tired. So tired. All you want is relief. And death seems like the only way to get it. At least, that's how it was for me.

Alex said...

Sad, yes. Why did he commit suicide?


elle-anne said...

so many truths yet to tell.


-a gal with curious hair-

nona said...

Depression is a DISEASE vs. Fight it/fight the power.

Both are true statements.

Clinical depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. I've suffered from it. It felt like going off to fight the Vietnam War every day -- in my head. To say that it's utterly exhausting and that it sucks a person's will to live is a gross understatement. But even on my worst days I had the presence of mind, if you will, to question what was happening to me and to try to find a way out. Maybe it's the survival instinct that kicks in. I don't know what else to call it.

Prescription drugs have turned my life around but, and this is a big butt, I also had to do a lot of thinking about what was going on in my life at the time that triggered the incident in the first place and what I could do to change things. I'm still working on that part . . .

Les said...

wow...I just started reading A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again for the 3rd time. This is the first I have heard of this news. I am awestruck.

Steve Gooch said...

Awful. I spent all day yesterday thinking about Wallace's work after I heard the news. He really had his own thing going on that I don't think can ever be duplicated. He and his inimitable style will really be missed.

If anyone's interested, McSweeney's is posting thoughts by those who knew him.

nona said...

I started reading the McSweeney's comments and I'm going to now read all of DFW's books, or at least skim them even if I can't finish them, as penance for what I'm about to say:

What the world needs now is a few more brainless jocks in order to counterbalance all of this unremitting neurosis.

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