Last Friday, I was having an enjoyable day, interviewing at a shop in Philadelphia and musing on what it would be like to live there - and then dropping in on my mother unannounced. Seeing the look of disbelief on her face was straight outta those MasterCard ads: Priceless. That night, I sat at dinner with her and my sister at a small Italian restaurant where we found ourselves wondering, not just once, what the other diners must have made of the trio of grown women who continually cracked each other up with uncanny impressions of our pets. We laughed. A lot. Later, just before I crashed in the spare bedroom, my mom told me that this "surprise" would rank at the top of her favorite memories. That was cool. Made me happy in a way that trying to describe would only cheapen it. Suffice it to say, a tear was shed.
That was Friday night, about 11PM eastern standard time. At approximately the exact same time, David Foster Wallace, a novelist who has been called the Kurt Cobain of modern literature, stepped off a chair and hung by the neck til dead. I can't possibly - nor could anyone - understand the depths of the despair this relatively young man was swimming in, but like everyone, I'm paying attention to clues.
He arrived on the scene in the late '80's with "The Broom of the System" to choruses of "Daring", "Original" and "Dead-on hilarious." He could have taken the safe route, and continued to deliver more picaresque adventures, but his love of philosophy and finding his Deep Voice drove him further afield. Anytime he had a magazine story out, legions of fans paid attention. And were rewarded for their devotion.
Then came "Infinite Jest." You'd better like page-turners, because there are 1,079 of them in this tome. David Foster Wallace had a unique take on everything, and was the most eloquent and oratory of parodists. Readers loved him, even though jealous writers to whom he'd been compared seemed to gleefully shit all over his work. Thus, sadly, marks the true arrival of a truly great writer.
And now, he's gone and put himself in the suicide pantheon of the gods. What he had been working on (which seemed to be stalled - he hadn't put out a novel since 2004), what relationships were important to him, who he'd be sorry to leave behind, the droning knell of this country's immediate history, none of it compared to an apparent misery with life that he'd come to outgrow.
As a writer, I am always horrified when I see that yet another of my tribe has either fallen off the wagon (oh, we're ALL alcoholics), killed a spouse, never been able to write a second book, or, finally, robbed their editor, the world, and its citizenry of any future character counts. It seems that of all professions, that of author seems to be one of the most dangerous. As I sit here at my desk this evening trying to make sense of this senseless act, I acknowledge that this is the God's truth.
Is it because writers have a frequent flyer program that takes them to such exotic locales as angst, longing, despair, high hysteria, fear and loathing? Is it because in order to wring humor from life, we have to slide into the darkest, most primal places? Or is it because, after having plumbed the depths and coughed out our best attempt at capture, words fail us? I'm sure it's a pu pu platter of all the above. Believe me, if I could switch vocations to, oh, say, pharmacist? - I'd do it in a shot. But I can't. I'm stuck, in this life, anyway, trying to tell stories and connect with readers. Trying to see the light in the dark and the sanity in the utter madness that surrounds all of us, all day, every day. And vice versa.
I can't begin to know what drove David Foster Wallace to that last "fuck you" - no one can. Not his wife, editor, parents. Nope, sorry. The end of the road, when we choose it instead of the other way around, is a very private matter; no one else is there when you pull the trigger, swallow the pills, stick your head in an oven, or put the noose around your own neck. My prayer for DFW is that wherever he winds up, he's able to finally, finally tell the stories he meant all his life to tell.