David Foster Wallace apparently hung himself in his Los Angeles apartment this weekend. In his best book, Infinite Jest, he’d written with a horrifying clarity about depression, addiction and failure. In the context of a not-quite-science-fiction near-future, in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (the U.S. has started offering years for sponsorship), in which large chunks of New England have been turned into a waste dump and forcibly ceded to Canada, and a group of wheelchair-bound Quebecois terrorists are seeking a lethally addictive film to use as a retaliatory weapon. A lot going on.
Maybe uniquely, he had an ability to write with incredible empathy about emotional swamps, while making it rib-splittingly funny and moving at the same time. It’s hard for me to remember laughing as hard at any other book; and yet the same book was full of deeply sympathetic character studies and an analytic eye that dissected or prophesied about modern media culture as well as anything I’ve ever read.
His later fiction never reached that peak (though if you haven’t read his essays, go right now and buy them all). One story in particular, the Depressed Girl, annoyed me, because it seemed he’d lost or willfully abandoned the sympathetic insight he’d had into emotionally drained or clinically depressed people.
Now maybe I understand it differently. That was the side of himself that he hated and feared. And which ultimately killed him.
Charlie Rose has a few interviews posted with him from the 1990s. The one here, following the publication of A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never do Again is heartbreaking, given the context.