The Genius in the Room: D.T. Max’s biography of David Foster Wallace

In a 2004 New York Times review of Edwin Williamson’s Borges: A Life, David Foster Wallace invoked what he called a “paradox about literary biographies.” Most people interested enough in a writer’s life to read a whole book about it were, he argued, likely to be admirers of that writer’s work, and were therefore inclined to idealize him or her as a person. “And yet,” he wrote, “it often seems that the person we encounter in the literary biography could not possibly have written the works we admire. And the more intimate and thorough the bio, the stronger this feeling usually is.” The Borges that Wallace encountered in Williamson’s book (“a vain, timid, pompous mama’s boy, given for much of his life to dithery romantic obsessions”) didn’t seem to have a whole lot in common with the genius who wrote the stories in Ficciones and The AlephEvery Love Story Is a Ghost Story, D.T. Max’s biography of Wallace, doesn’t elicit quite as stark a sense of paradox, or as thorough a disillusionment. The things we learn about DFW the Guy tend to correspond to what we already knew about DFW the Writer. What’s surprising, though, is how often those correspondences take forms we mightn’t have expected.

Read the rest at Slate

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