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D. T. Max
Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
Viking Adult / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-670-02592-3
Publication Date:08-30-2012
368 Pages; $27.95
Date Reviewed:09-29-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  Non-Fiction  General Fiction

Books are so tangible, so material. The words are fixed to paper. How then, do books, and those who write them, take on such import in our lives? In the process of reading, the words are transformed into something analogous to memory. And in those moments, we can become the characters in the books, we can experience the world through their eyes and the eyes of the author as well.

Some writers strike us, and David Foster Wallace was one them. From 'The Broom of the System' through 'The Pale King,' Wallace offered his readers life as he lived it for them, as he re-imagined it for them. The intensity was palpable; and ultimately, too great for Wallace himself to sustain. In 2008, he committed suicide. In his books, he lives forever.

In 'Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace,' D. T. Max offers us exactly what we need now that Wallace himself is no longer here; Wallace's story, straight up, no chaser. Economical, emotional, grief-inducing, and gripping from the first word to the last, 'Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story' offers a powerful vision of and from within the mind of David Foster Wallace. How can we not, ultimately, find joy in this work? Max, presented with all the stuff of Wallace's life, has cut away all but what we need to know. He gives us the story of a man who told stories that became a part of our lives and changed us.

Economy and a straightforward approach are the watchwords of this finely written biography. Max starts with a birth, ends with a death, and between the two, we find the story of a life that matters very much. Wallace's life and his fiction are so dense that there is a lot to unpack, so the trick is to pare away the excesses that Wallace himself might find interesting and worth of sentences that will change your life. Max takes a very different approach from Wallace's fiction to Wallace's life. There is an almost Dickensian feel to this story, a gritty, intense and hyper-real look at mid-Western, middle class Americana; but shot through with the flashes of brilliance, and madness Wallace himself experienced.

Wallace transformed his own life and experiences in his many novels, particularly 'Infinite Jest.' Max does a superb job of showing the man who was capable of such writing without succumbing to the temptation to imitate that writing. Instead, he takes a carefully detailed, sculpted approach to the work. 'Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story' is, like many biographies these days, written like a novel and has the feel of a novel; but not a David Foster Wallace novel. It is very much the creation of D. T. Max, who gives us a very low-key rendition of a high-energy life.

Wallace, as we see him here, was clearly a troubled child who grew — slowly — into a troubled young man. Even as he was displaying the brilliance that would result in 'Infinite Jest' in college, he was breaking down and being hospitalized. To his credit, Max does not always paint a pretty picture of the man who has become something of an idol. Wallace was wracked with insecurity (and to a degree, with good reason), and his brilliance was just as often a curse as it was a blessing. Max manages to find the story through-line in the real events of Wallace's life and offers readers a yearning, aching perspective on his life as imagined in his work. His words do no less bring us the world of David Foster Wallace with the casual poignancy of the truth.

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