Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
NO CURT JESTER
WORDS LIKE "BRILLIANT" and "virtuoso" are routinely used to describe David Foster Wallace. Words like "succinct" and "breezy" are not. Infinite Jest, his acclaimed, anvil-size 1996 novel, ran to a whopping 1,079 pages, while A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, his new collection of seven "essays and arguments" originally published in magazines and journals, clocks in at a hefty 353.
His latest book had a chance at being called breezy, but Wallace would not leave well enough alone. "I wanted to go through some of these pieces," he explains, "and do a director's cut." The expanded, wickedly funny essays—on an eclectic array of topics like filmmaker David Lynch and the Illinois State Fair—would confirm Wallace's standing as one of generation X's most important voices, if only he were part of generation X. "Technically," he says, "I'm a baby boomer. I was born in 1962."
At 34, he's certainly more mature than when his first two books (a 1987 novel The Broom of the System and 1989's short-story collection Girl with Curious Hair) made him a literary celebrity. "I was a shy, nerdy person who spent an enormous amount of time alone," says Wallace, "and all of a sudden, in a weirdly small world, I became notorious." He experimented with drugs and embarked on a lifestyle "I vaguely understood to be expected of me," he says, "and discovered I didn't have the constitution for it." Two weeks in the psychiatric ward of a Boston hospital straightened him out. "It was an unpleasant experience," says Wallace, "and I got highly motivated not to repeat it."
These days, the unmarried author likes to visit with friends in Bloomington, Ill., where he owns a home, to watch Frasier, NYPD Blue and...vasectomies? "When it's surgery night on the science channel, we get together and make popcorn," says Wallace, who otherwise seems normal. "I don't regard myself as particularly interesting," he adds. "I'm uncomfortable getting a lot of attention, mostly because it makes me self-conscious. And that makes it hard to write." Though not that hard.