The “to be or not to be” of David Foster Wallace

“This was not an ending anyone would have wanted for him, but it was the one he had chosen.” 

The closing sentence of D. T. Max’s exemplary biography “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story – A Life of David Foster Wallace” is succinct and devastating.

David Foster Wallace’s meteoric writing career took the brilliant young American philosopher-turned-author to the pinnacle of acclaim as “the leading light of his generation” and then just as abruptly stalled in a morass of self-doubt and neurosis until he crashed and burned, hanging himself in his home garage.

Despite the popular stereotype, artistic exceptionalism is not often accompanied by personal eccentricity that culminates in such self-destructive behaviour as suicide whether of the protracted or precipitous variety. But when it does, when someone with such extraordinary intellectual and artistic capabilities as Wallace’s comes to the conclusion that continued living is intolerable, we are drawn to reflect not only on the emotional and mental health of the artist in question, but also on what it is about us as individuals, communities, and societies that was sufficiently lacking that they decided, chose, to sever their relationship with us.

Suicide invariably leads to self-recrimination for those of us left behind. I know of what I speak, having lost a brother in an act of will and through a methodology comparable to Wallace’s. There are so many questions that are left unanswered. A great deal of time, energy, and weeping goes into trying to resolve those questions that are in the final analysis unanswerable.

D. T. Max has done all of us a great service, whether we have a direct relationship to suicide or none at all, by detailing David Foster Wallace’s life with unsentimental but sympathetic eloquence. In so doing, Max gives us insight into the intensity with which Wallace lived and thereby helps us understand a bit more of how Wallace came to make the choice he did even if we are still left far from resolving the why.

* * *

Information on D. T. Max’s “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story – A Life of David Foster Wallace” available at:

Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” available on my website at:



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