Sunday, September 14, 2008

RIP David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace killed himself on Friday. The Times' obit focuses on his importance as a fiction writer and glosses over his nonfiction, which I much preferred—and where he used many of the same postmodern tricks. I can't emphasize enough that how great his two collections, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster, are; all would-be journalists should read them. (Kakutani does mention his nonfiction in her tribute.)

I first discovered Foster Wallace in 1994, when I read his article about the Illinois State Fair in Harper's; in 1996, he wrote about going on a cruise for the same magazine. Both articles were illuminating and incredibly funny—I clearly remember laughing out loud over and over at his descriptions of the fair's food and rides (his approach to this kind of deep Americana has become the norm, though DFW's imitators are just that).

But what made DFW stand out wasn't so much his love for footnotes but the way he wrestled with his role as a writer and with thorny moral issues, something current popular essayists like David Sedaris or Chuck Klosterman never do. The title essay of Consider the Lobster may well be his finest in that regard.

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