The Unfinished: David Foster Wallace

I just finished “The Unfinished“, D.T. Max’s piece in the Arts and Letters section of the March 9 New Yorker on the career and suicide of David Foster Wallace.

This is a great piece of writing about writing; a frightening, sad look at the loneliness of a sick genius left to his own thoughts and insecurities and the terror of a blank page. “Feeding my wastebasket,” Wallace wrote to his friends. Sitting in an airconditioned garage in Claremont, California with a 250,000 word manuscript of a novel, The Pale King, about the Internal Revenue Service, an exploration into the topic of boredom by a writer so brilliant that his style demanded a digressive pile of footnotes and endnotes to sustain the intellectual horsepower raging inside of him. Anyone who thinks the life of a writer is glamorous needs to read this tale of mental illness, brilliance, and heavy, grueling, lonely hard labor.

Wallace is significant in American writing in that he helped end the dry spell of spare realism inflicted on American literature in the late 1970s by editors such as Gordon Lish and writers such as Raymond Carver. Heavily influenced by Thomas Pynchon, Wallace took the post-modern reveries of Gravity’s Rainbow, John Barth, John Hawkes and Donald Barthleme and made literature emotional again, instilling in his great wordplay a philosophical intelligence (he wrote a book on infinity) picked up from another of his favorite influences, Don DeLillo. Wallace summed up the role of fiction is to show the world what is was to “be a fucking human being.”

Unfortunately, dead at age 46, he leaves the instruction manual unfinished.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

2 thoughts on “The Unfinished: David Foster Wallace”

  1. David:

    I read the same piece on the plane yesterday. Your review is spot on and helps clarify my own thinking about this important author. Thanks –


  2. Seeing him wandering around Claremont Village several years ago made me feel sad.He was arguing with lamp posts. His loft in the old Claremont packing house south of the village would make Wm. Saroyan feel right at home, with all its OCD stashed bits of paper.
    Good writer but extremely sad ending.


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