And the effort to actually to do it, not just talk about it, requires a kind of courage I don’t seem to have yet.” He also said, “All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers.”One of the great pleasures in reading Wallace is to watch him struggle to give the reader her due.His first novel, “The Broom of the System,” published in 1987, tells of a young woman who worries that she might exist only as a character in a story.
In a 1989 letter to the novelist Jonathan Franzen, a friend, Wallace said that “Broom” felt as if it had been written by “a very smart fourteen-year-old.”“Infinite Jest,” which came out almost a decade after “Broom,” was a vast investigation into America as the land of addictions: to television, to drugs, to loneliness.
The book comes to center on a halfway-house supervisor named Don Gately, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, who, with great effort, resists these enticements.
But after “Infinite Jest” Wallace came to feel that his prose was too often arch and arid.
Without capitulating to realism, he wanted to tell his stories in a more straightforward way.
The critic James Wood cited “Infinite Jest” as representative of the kind of fiction dedicated to the “pursuit of vitality at all costs.” At times, Wallace felt the same way.
“I’m sad and empty as I always am, when I finish something long,” Wallace wrote to Franzen, shortly before the book’s publication.
There was also Wallace’s outsized passion for the printed word at a time when it looked like it needed champions.
His novels were overstuffed with facts, humor, digressions, silence, and sadness.
During this time, he produced two long novels, three collections of short stories, two books of essays and reporting, and “Everything and More,” a history of infinity. In “The Depressed Person,” a short story about an unhappy narcissistic young woman—included in Wallace’s 1999 collection, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”—he wrote, “Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil, Wellbutrin, Elavil, Metrazol in combination with unilateral ECT (during a two-week voluntary in-patient course of treatment at a regional Mood Disorders clinic), Parnate both with and without lithium salts, Nardil both with and without Xanax.
None had delivered any significant relief from the pain and feelings of emotional isolation that rendered the depressed person’s every waking hour an indescribable hell on earth.” He never published a word about his own mental illness.