Authors grieve over Wallace's apparent suicide

September 15, 2008 9:53:34 AM PDT
The literary world is in grief for David Foster Wallace, an author of seemingly unstoppable curiosity, imagination and ambition who apparently killed himself last week. Readers are seeking out his work, including his 1,000-page novel "Infinite Jest" and the essay collection "Consider the Lobster."

Wallace, who wrote with an explosive, ironic, but deeply serious passion about subjects ranging from tennis and politics to mathematics and cruise ships, was found dead by his wife in his home Friday night, according to the Claremont, Calif., police department. The 46-year-old author apparently hanged himself.

"He was the best of our generation, and his death is a loss beyond describing," Richard Powers, winner of the National Book Award in 2006 for the novel "The Echo Maker," told The Associated Press on Sunday.

"I am so sad - stunned - it reminds us all of how fragile we are, and how close at hand the darkness is," said fellow author A.M. Homes, whose books include the novel "The End of Alice" and "The Mistress's Daughter," a memoir. "He was a wonderful writer, a generous friend, and a singular talent."

A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Wallace was often compared to Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo as an avatar of the Information Age, a visionary and eclectic as hip to ancient Greece and British poetry as he was to computers and television and popular culture. He also wrote often about addiction, depression and suicide, a post-1960s Dystopia in which "irony, irreverence, and rebellion come to be not liberating but enfeebling."

Wallace was far better known to his peers than to the general public, but news of his death led to a quick jump in sales for his books. As of Sunday night, "Infinite Jest" was in the top 20 on Amazon.com and "Consider the Lobster" was in the top 75. Several of his books were out of stock.

His longtime editor, Michael Pietsch, said Sunday that his last contact with Wallace had been a "wonderful exchange of letters" around a month ago. He declined to say what they had written about or offer any comment on the author's private life.

Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown and Company, told The Associated Press that from the start he found Wallace's talent "jaw dropping" and shining with "unexpected hilariousness."

"From the first paragraph you read of him, you realize he's biting off more than anybody, taking on gigantic subjects in unexpected ways and delivering undreamed of pleasures and insights, at the largest levels and the most microscopic levels."

Asked what Wallace had been working on at the time of his death, Pietsch offered no specifics, but said: "He was always writing something. He was always doing something ambitious."

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