2011: My Year With David Foster Wallace


In the minds of many acolytes, 2011 means the last major release of work by David Foster Wallace, incomplete though The Pale King remains. For long-time fans, I suspect this release closed the book on a tender love affair. For this newbie, the media hoopla actually alerted me to Wallace, and enabled a love affair of my own.

Reading Infinite Jest perfectly split my year. After the trauma of wedding planning and the joy of actually getting married, I chose to recharge my emotional and intellectual stores with one of the most difficult books ever written (difficult being relative, I assume).

I had warmed up with a number of his non-fiction essays, proselytizing E Pluribus Unam and many others to all who would listen. I cooled down with some of his short fiction, even though none could live up to IJ.

But on the day I reached Jamaica, I began Infinite Jest. And my memories of romance, sand and boats intertwine perfectly with the misadventures of one Hal Incadenza and all the characters that thread out from him. I was left with an existential sadness when I finished that novel, which probably won't be wiped away until I give in and read it again.

Now, I barely remember pre-DFW 2011, filled with Freedom and Room and other single-named novels that linger in the memory, but not the soul (I make a neat exception for Just Kids, by Patti Smith).

Many speak of his remarkable facility with language, of the colors of mental illness that thread through all of his work, of his deep impenetrability, like he's some bad boyfriend we're all trying to change.

What makes him so appealing to me is none of those things. It's his sensitivity, his hyper-awareness of all that makes us human and all the forces that would deprive us of that quality.

Do I have plans to read The Pale King? In short, yes. I will not make a promise as to when, however. I suspect five more readings of IJ will come first.

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2 Responses to “ 2011: My Year With David Foster Wallace ”

  1. Great post. I'm on the third reading through IJ myself.. I feel the same way. I can't start The Pale King just yet. There's so much in IJ I want to savor.

  2. Yeah...I'm really restraining myself from reading it again...but that killed a whole month of my reading schedule last year, lol.


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