Wherever you stand in terms of thinking about the Great American Novel and what it’s supposed to do and what it says about you, you’ve probably noticed that David Foster Wallace is having another moment these days. With the new film The End of the Tour, starring Jason Segal, about DFW’s “lost interviews” with journalist David Lipsky, in theaters now (at our beloved State Theater, just a few blocks from the bookstore) many people are writing about David Foster Wallace’s oeuvre and legacy, and what it means now, almost 7 years after his sad passing.
In a very compelling article for NY Magazine, Molly Fischer asks her reader to consider the following question: “How did poor David Foster Wallace go from dissecting the pretensions and shortcomings of mid-century men of letters to holding a central place in the pretensions of their heirs?” Fair question, methinks.
DFW may be “beloved by lit bros” now, but back in 1996 Michiko Kakatani said he “used his prodigious gifts as a writer, his manic, exuberant prose, his ferocious powers of observation, his ability to fuse avant-garde techniques with old-fashioned moral seriousness, to create a series of strobe-lit portraits of a millennial America, overdosing on the drugs of entertainment and self-gratification.” And you can listen to the author in an 1997 NPR Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross here, rebooted and framed with a discussion of the recent film.
I say, read him, and decide for yourself.*
*I, myself, in my novel-reading habits, prefer slender volumes of prose verging on verse. And I tend to be skeptical of the whole idea of the Great American Novel altogether (Why so big? What is America, anyway? What’s with all this ungainly scaffolding and macho universality? Why not more elegant?)
But, one of the loveliest book clubs I’ve ever had was the Infinite Summer of 2009–the wonderful online literary journal The Morning News hosted it, and one could sign up and post to a forum, but I chose to just read the book with a pal, aligning my progress with The Morning News’s timeline. If you’ve never tackled Infinite Jest, it’s still not too late to have your own Infinite Summer. Grab a buddy and trot through this big, bizarre, and very tenderhearted book. It’s got everything**: tennis, Hamlet, cultish radio stars, and funny teeth.
**Not really everything. But, several things. And many pages. Most of them startlingly good and surprisingly funny.