Foster?s death a tragedy

By By James Sewell

By James Sewell

A few years ago, my friend gave me a book to read, saying he thought it was something that was up my alley and that I might really enjoy. Infinite Jest clocked in at 1,079 pages (in his dog-eared paperback edition), including 96 pages of comically comprehensive and esoteric footnotes, and it was not the kind of book one would consider light reading.

The novel weaves together three major plot lines, involving a former-drug-addict-turned-drug-rehabilitation-counselor, wheel-chair-bound Quebecois separatists, and a young tennis prodigy whose father was a filmmaker who produced a video so lethally entertaining that anyone who watches it becomes totally incapacitated and dies of pleasure overload.

Many months later, after multiple periods of complete and total confusion, despair, laughter, sadness and relief, I finished the novel and found myself addicted to David Foster Wallace’s style, flair, wit and genius. I began to read everything of his I could get my hands on, and it would be fair to say that I was in love with an author for the first time in my life.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I write these words, in what cannot possibly be even close to a fitting memorial to an author who inspired me, who influenced my own thinking in numerous, subtle ways. David Foster Wallace was found dead in his home on Friday evening, and the shock of seeing the news Saturday evening as I perused the newspaper before bed has not yet begun to wear off.

The apparent cause was suicide, which would not have surprised me but for the fact that he was still so young and had so much more to write, so much more to give, before his time was up.

He was an extraordinarily talented writer, and his unusually early first brushes with literary fame and fortune brought the not-so-unusual brushes with drugs and alcohol and rehab8212;experiences he drew on to spectacular effect in his depiction of the halfway house for addicts which features prominently in Infinite Jest.

One of his goals was to move beyond the irony-laden paradigms of post-modernism and promote a return to a time when an author could evoke real, unself-conscious emotional connections with readers, although he himself struggled with the task, to uneven effect.

So here we are now, left with nothing but questions about how so talented a man could have suffered so greatly as to see suicide as the answer. Perhaps a suicide note will surface, and fans and scholars and the morbidly fascinated will analyze its messages and themes and details.

I have Infinite Jest sitting next to me at my desk, and I’ve been thumbing through it looking for those old passages that made me laugh out loud in the middle of a coffee shop and in the privacy of my home, and I’m thankful at least to have these to cherish and hold dear. Perhaps the joke is on us.

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James Sewell