I’ll admit it: He’s gone by choice, which makes his thoughts more interesting to me. Let’s get that out of the way. Beyond the intrigue of understanding a person who chooses to end his own life, and the being-human fascination of finding clues in his writing or interviews, and the knowledge that there are no words beyond those he’s left, David Foster Wallace is interesting because he was a damned rewarding thinker to process.
So I was surprised when I discovered I liked him less after reading Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky’s transcription of their time together in 1996 at the end the Infinite Jest book tour, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.
But I’m not going to blame that completely on DFW.
I was very happy when I heard about the book that prompted the controversial film about David Foster Wallace’s partial book tour with Lipsky. I’ve read Infinite Jest, the essay collection Consider the Lobster, and am almost entirely through* his book of published essays called A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.
And, “A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace”? That sounds like at least a top-five answer to: “Who –living or dead–would you take a road trip with?” (Right after Yoko Ono, maybe.)
I was ready to learn more in-depth reflections from DFW and his interpretation of the critical acclaim surrounding Infinite Jest’s publication, as well as everyday details about his life and reflections.
I did learn that he was (predictably) uncomfortable with the new attention, had an obsession with getting laid as a newly famous author, and suffered from a TV addiction (not to mention excessive soda consumption).
And as a human being I expect these normal details, even from DFW! — except — I was also sharing the room with a most annoying and unwelcome guest who kept inserting his own reflections and interpretations in what must have been hundreds of bracketed parentheticals [she’s being haughty now] before I eventually quit reading the transcription due to annoyance with Lipsky [she doesn’t like me] and boredom with their conversations [I don’t think she’s being sincere], of which were repetitive, as even DFW pointed out several times when he was re-asked the same questions repeatedly [you already asked me that].
Lipsky was reportedly envious of DFW’s newly found fame, and this jealousy parades all too painfully through the interviews. He’s like the annoying kid yelling, “Hey guys, wait for me! Wait uuuuup! What about me e e?”
The bracketed Lipsky obervations are helpful when they describe a scene or context for the transcription, but least helpful when they state his post-interview opinion on whether or not DFW is being sincere or likes him. His paranoid interjections detract from the flow of the text and the reader’s ability to interpret as s/he sees fit.
The book could have been summarized in a few pages and quotes, possibly as originally intended for the never-to-be published Rolling Stone article.
And — spoiler alert — beyond a couple of references to airports and short car trips it’s not really a road trip. It’s more of a stop at DFW’s house, meals at a couple of uninteresting restaurants, and one book reading that was not all that revealing.
For a more intriguing journey with DFW, I highly recommend the series of interviews conducted by KCRW’s Bookworm host Michael Silverblatt, to whom DFW gushed: “Will you adopt me?” in one interview. You won’t find that kind of intimacy in this book.
[She hates me.]
* I am waiting to read the title essay until I finish my own reflections on our transatlantic “cruise”