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Dustin L. Nelson: On David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

September 14, 2008

Dustin Luke Nelson

On Friday evening author David Foster Wallace was found dead in his California home from an apparent suicide. Wallace, 46, was best known for his darkly satirical 1996 novel Infinite Jest, and for his biting non-fiction essays, such as “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

Wallace was discovered by his wife shortly after he hung himself Friday. The impact on the world of letters from the loss of such a luminary is great; Wallace was among satirical greats like Mark Twain, Don DeLillo, and David Sedaris. Turning a sardonic eye towards American ritualism his unique brand of dark humor changed the way literary humorists write.

His influence was undeniable on the next generation of writers. Chuck Klosterman, whose own style is full of wafts of Wallace satire, even made mention of him in essays. While penning an essay on a cruise boat carrying the likes of Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Journey he was all but required to mention that the authoritative cruise essay had already been written by Wallace.

Wallace’s innovative style broke boundaries and reestablished the novel as a blank canvas in a way only a few authors have had the vision to do. Like luminaries before him–Faulkner, Marquez and few others–he re-imagined the way it was possible to read a novel and had the ability to make it work. His odd methods of annotating fiction, and the rather lengthy footnotes of work like Infinite Jest, will remain fresh in my memory as a time my personal view of literature changed forever.

Wallace was a teacher at Pomona College and a 1997 recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant. He was a contributor to the New Yorker, Esquire, GQ, Harper’s and The Paris Review. His short story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men was recently adapted for the cinema and is currently in post-production.

Wallace is among a select few modern authors whose impact will continue to be felt long after his death.

Dustin Luke Nelson is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine. His writing and interviews have appeared in that magazine as well as at The Favorite 10 blog, Rift Magazine, TC Planet, and in other places.

Copyright 2008 Dustin Luke Nelson

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