David Foster Wallace killed himself last Friday. In the obituaries, I looked for his trademark footnotes, especially the one that would have told us that his suicide by hanging was just a postmodern joke played by a fame-averse author who wished to drop out of the world for a while. Monica Hesse, in her appreciation of Wallace, employs the footnote, but alas it is only to say, "Oh, Dave, we will miss you."
It would be a shame if his death were romanticized. Yes, he did kill himself, and probably for no greater reason than that he had long been depressed and had gone off his meds the year before. But it's hard not to look for meaning in the death of an artist whose "engine of inquiry was always set in overdrive," as Bart Schneider put it in his review of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. (Not on the web anymore, unfortunately.)
Coincidentally, there are a few books out about suicide right now, including one by Christopher Lukas about his brother, J. Anthony Lukas, author of Common Ground and Big Trouble. Lukas killed himself right before Big Trouble came out, because ostensibly he didn't feel it was as good as the prize-winning Common Ground. Or maybe because suicide ran in the family: His mother, his grandmother and his uncle had all killed themselves long before he did.
Joan Wickersham wrote The Suicide Index in an attempt to make sense of her father's suicide. It shouldn't come as a surprise that she fails in her attempt: Her beautifully written book ends with the realization that the story of her father's death can never fully be known. And we will never really know what drove Wallace to that last irrevocable act. Look for the review of these two books in next Sunday's Book World.
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