Introducing David Foster Wallace - A Master of Creative Writing

by wordsareharmless

One of the most influential modern writers, David Foster Wallace published numerous bestsellers that keep inspiring both prospective and well established authors.

On September 12th, 2008, David Foster Wallace committed a suicide. He hanged himself in the basement of his house in Claremont, California. His death was the result of several-decades-long struggle with depression. He was 46.
In his short career, he published several bestsellers and worked as a journalist for some of the most famous magazines in the U.S. His witty and humorous writings will continue to live on long after his death.

By Kauserali, WikicommonsDavid Foster Wallace was a writer who managed to unite philosophy and humor. His thematically challenging short stories, essays and novels made the readers think and laugh at the same time. He wrote about luxurious cruises and state fairs. He questioned the moral aspect of cooking lobsters and went behind the scenes of the Adult Video industry. He wrote a 1200-pages novel in which nothing really happens and made the whole literary world crazy about it. He gave a commencement speech that is now a YouTube sensation. He won a MacArthur fellowship. He published frequently in Harper's and New Yorker.

And while he was bursting with creativity, David Foster Wallace fought against depression. Media-shy, he rarely appeared on TV or gave interviews. During the last year of his life, he didn't even want to leave his house, afraid that some of his students (he was a part-time professor) might see him in his horrible state. One time at the end of a semester, when he sat with his students, he started crying over the fact that he would never see them again.

But none of that dark struggle is recognizable in his prose. As a dedication to this amazing writer, he is an overview of all the work that he produced during his (unfortunately too short) career.

The Broom of the System

Published when Wallace was only 25, The Broom of the System lacks the maturity and uniqueness that his later prose has. Initially written as a thesis for one of his college classes, the novel received a positive review from the New York Times' well known critic Michiko Kakutani and earned the writer $20,000 in book royalties. This sudden success led young Wallace to Harvard University, where he acquired his master's degree.

The Broom of the System is a classic postmodern piece - its story is comical and pompous, the characters range from a talking parrot to a big-shot who wants to become super-fat so that he can conquer the whole world with his body. And at the same time, one person, a young, recent college graduate, tries to find some sense in all of that. 

Although now the novel is considered one of the weakest Wallace's writing, at that time it helped him a lot - his professors at the University of Arizona ridiculed his writing-style, saying that he should stick to a traditional, realistic narration. Publishing the book in thousands of copies and receiving positive reviews from some of the top magazines and newspapers was the best proof to Wallace that he should not follow his professors' advice. 

Girl With Curious Hair

Girl With Curious Hair collects the short stories that Wallace wrote as a creative writing student. The first signs of his recognizable style and obsession with popular entertainment are visible in the book.

Girl With Curious Hair received far less attention than The Broom of The System. Later, in an interview, David Foster Wallace mentioned that the book was so unpopular that during one of his readings only 12 people showed up.

However, nowadays this collection serves as an evidence of a young writer discovering what he is really interested in writing about.

Many of the stories evolve around famous people (David Letterman, Lyndon Johnson) and were published in magazines like Playboy and Esquire.

Girl With Curious Hair
W. W. Norton & Company
$15.95  $8.71

Infinite Jest

One of the most (if not the most) popular American novels of the 90s. More than a thousand pages long, the book had unimaginably big media coverage. Portions of Infinite Jest appeared in New Yorker. Charlie Rose invited Wallace to be a guest in his show. He was constantly followed by journalists (one of them even wrote a book about the road-trip that he undertook with Wallace during the writer's book tour).

Infinite Jest
Back Bay Books
$20.00  $8.88

And what is the book about? Well... hard to tell. But in the center of it are a young tennis genius and a recovering drug addict. Somehow, their stories interconnect while at the same time, a video tape with some strange content is in circulation. Whoever plays it ends up dying because the tape is so entertaining that nobody can stop watching it. 

The book made David Foster Wallace world famous. Suddenly, he was considered one of the most important young American writers. He received a MarArthur fellowship (a $500,000 check whose purpose is to allow the recipient to concentrate on creating, instead of worrying about money).

Infinite Jest is a must read for every creative writing student. Wallace's ability to tell a story in thousand different ways will serve as an endless source of inspiration for young writers. 

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments

David Foster Wallace's popularity continued to rise with this collection of essays. Many of them appeared in much shorter form in magazines like Premiere, Esquire and Harper's.

The topics range from highly academic discussions of popular culture, to memoirs about growing in windy Illinois and journalistic reports about David Lynch. The essay the book is most known for, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," describes, in a dairy-style, all the ridiculous things that David Foster Wallace experienced during a cruise. 

Amazingly funny and smart, this book will turn out to be the highest point of Wallace's career. This was his last work that received completely positive reviews. 

Although even after A Supposedly Fun Thing... Wallace's books continued to appear on various bestseller lists, there were fewer and fewer critics who still admired his work.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

The only Wallace's work that got a screen adaptation, this half novel/half a collection of short stories contains various "interviews" with troubled men (and women) - sex addicts, psychopaths, misogynistic, rape victims, etc. 

The fictitious interviews are presented as some kind of self-examination. Instead of questions, all that the readers see is "Q", and the answer that follows. 

This was the first book written by Wallace that Michiko Kakutani didn't give a positive review for. She felt that Wallace's characters had become shallow and that his writing style had lost much of its unique style.

And although some parts seem more like unedited scrabbles from Wallace's notebook than like completed short stories, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is an entertaining page-turner. 

Oblivion: Stories
Back Bay Books
$16.00  $5.35


After Brief Interviews, fans of David Foster Wallace had to wait five years for his next book. And when it was finally published, they were in for a big shock - something had seriously changed in him. 

Suddenly, his stories were not bursting with humor and adrenaline. The plots became much slower,  ambiguous and realistic. Popular entertainment and celebrities did not seem to interest Wallace any more. 

His focus shifted to ordinary persons and ordinary troubles that they had to face. However, the "ordinary" issues that he wrote about are those that had not been explored before in fiction - boredom, monotony, work routines... 

David Foster Wallace became obsessed with boredom. The characters that started interesting him were those who spent their lives going to work every day, from 9-5, sitting

in offices for eight hours, filling out paperwork. 

In the collection's best story, "Soul is not a smithy," Wallace explores the horror that a child faces when he realizes that his life will not be an adventurous journey filled with excitement.

Consider the Lobster

One of all-time best collection of essays, this humorous books challenges the readers' views on variety of topics, from adult videos to eating lobsters. 

In "The View from Mrs. Thompsons," Wallace describes the mood in a small American town on September 11th, 2001. 

In "Big Red Son," the author attends "Oscars" equivalent for the adult film industry, and examines the America's (and worlds) obsession with adult entertainment.

And in "Consider the Lobster," which appeared in Robert Atwan's Best American Essays series, Wallace asks a simply questions: is it morally right to cook an alive lobster in order to prepare a delicious meal?

For those who haven't read Wallace, this collection would be the best starting point. 

Essays on David Foster Wallace

The Legacy of David Foster Wallace (N...
$19.95  $12.00
Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on...
$19.95  $6.85

This is Water

It's sad to see how shamelessly hungry book publishers are for money. Just several months after David Foster Wallace committed a suicide, Little, Brown and Company announced that they would release a book containing Wallace's commencement speech.

The whole speech you can hear on YouTube. It is 20 minutes long.

The book has 144 pages. And no, there's no extra material.

Just the commencement speech.

The editor at Little, Brown and Company thought of a terrific idea to spread the speech in such a way that each page contains only one sentence.

Throughout his career, every book that Wallace published had at least three hundred pages. He would never publish a book until he was sure that he had enough quality content. Even in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, a book that seems somehow all over the place, Wallace left out some of the stories that at that moment did not seem good enough for him. 

The Pale King
Back Bay Books
$17.00  $6.63

The Pale King

This posthumously published unfinished novel serve as a reminder of how much the world has lost with David Foster Wallace's departure. 

The Pale King is about a group of young IRS workers whose lives turn into endless days of mind-numbing jobs where they do nothing else but cross-exam tax returns. It is a story of a whole generation of people whose dreams of a fulfilling life are lost somewhere in piles of paperwork that they need to work on - day in, day out.

Wallace is at his best in this novel. His writing is superb - sentences are beautifully crafted, language is rich and powerful, and each chapter can work as a separate short story.

Several excerpts from The Pale King appeared in New Yorker. The best part of the book is the chapter about a ghost who visits one of the examiners and talks to him about the usage of the word "boredom."

The fact that the novel is left unfinished does not mean much. Most of Wallace's work does not have a real, traditional ending that wraps up the whole story. If Wallace completed the novel, the readers would have more of his beautiful writing to enjoy in, but the overall impression would be probably the same.

The Pulitzer Prize committee made a big mistake when it decided not to give award to any book in 2011. The Pale King deserved it. 

Listen to the terrific readings of monologues from The Pale King

David Foster Wallace's book of previously uncollected essays will be published in Fall, 2012

Make sure to get your copy
Both Flesh and Not: Essays
$26.99  $3.99
Updated: 06/10/2012, wordsareharmless
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