Many critics know far more than I do about the novelist and short story writer David Foster Wallace, who killed himself on Friday, and David Gates has posted a good appreciation of his fiction on the Newsweek site www.newsweek.com/id/158935. So I’ll mention only an encounter I had with Wallace, early in his career, when I was the book editor of the Plain Dealer. I had read his story “Everything Is Green” — which has fewer than 700 words — in Harper’s before it was collected in Girl With Curious Hair, and I had remarked in my Sunday column that it was too minimalist for my taste.
Not long afterward, I got a letter from Wallace that was unusual for two reasons. One was that Wallace wrote to me about what was little more than a passing mention of his story: Most novelists don’t write to book editors about reviews that have hundreds or thousands of words. The letter was also noteworthy for its mildness: Wallace didn’t sound angry so much as baffled that I hadn’t liked his story, and he tried to persuade me to reconsider. His tone differed markedly from that of the may-God-smite-your-firstborn letters that I received at times from writers, and I appreciated his civility. Some critics have faulted Wallace’s writing for bombast, but if that quality had its roots in a personal trait, I saw no evidence of it in my gentle encounter with him.
[Contact information for the family of David Foster Wallace: Wallace leaves his wife, Karen Green; his parents, James and Sally Wallace; and his sister, Amy. Write to his family c/o David Foster Wallace Author Mail, Little, Brown & Co., 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017, or through Pomona College, where he taught: c/o Gary Kates, Dean, Pomona College, 333 N. College Way, Claremont, CA 91711.]
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.