David Foster Wallace: 5 facts about the celebrated American novelist and his most famous book, Infinite Jest

This week marks the 20th anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s critically-lauded 1996 novel Infinite Jest, a satirical exploration into hyper-consumerism and addiction in near-future dystopian North America. It was a follow-up to his highly-praised debut The Broom of the System.

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Wallace, who suffered from a severe depression, committed suicide in 2008 at just 46 years of age. Since the release of Infinite Jest, he is now viewed as one of the very best modern American writers. Here are five facts about both Wallace and Infinite Jest to commemorate their shared legacy:

David Foster Wallace

Wallace was a ranked junior tennis player in Illinois, USA

The inspiration for Infinite Jest‘s tennis academy backdrop was personal for Wallace, who was skilled enough at a younger age to become a regionally ranked junior player in the Illinois region, where he grew up. As well as the fictional Enfield Tennis Academy, the book’s Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House was similarly drawn from Wallace’s own time spent in rehabilitation to fend off his persistent heroin addiction. Both experiences were crucial to the narrative make-up of Infinite Jest – although one is certainly darker than the other!

Infinite Jest was dauntingly long to one Entertainment Weekly critic

Once published in 1996, Entertainment Weekly book critic Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote a fairly scathing ‘review’ addressing Infinite Jest‘s gargantuan 1,079 page length. In her article, she said:

“It sits there like a dare, like a reproach, like a doorstop. It is 1,079 pages long. It’s a terrific book, I’m sure — all the other reviewers tell me so. But right now INFINITE JEST (Little, Brown, $29.95), the defiantly dense new novel by the intriguing young writer David Foster Wallace, sits on my desk like an infinite burden.”

(The entire review can be read here.)

The End of the TourA film based on a 5-day interview between Wallace and a Rolling Stone reporter was released last year

The End of the Tour is a 2015 drama dealing with an interview between Wallace and Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky. Based on Lipsky’s best-selling memoir Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, the film stars Jesse Eisenberg as the awestruck interviewer, and Jason Segel as an intitally indifferent Wallace. 

The film was highly regarded upon release and ended up on many best-of-year lists from several movie critics, boasting a score of “universal acclaim” on review aggregation site Metacritic.

Infinite Jest was treated to a large and successful marketing push – much to Wallace’s disdain

Publisher Little, Brown (and Company) was enamoured with Infinite Jest and saw fit to majorly hype up its promotion for the book’s first run in early 1996. Employing unique strategies like sending mysterious postcards to press publications hinting at its title, and challenging its prospective audience to to take on such a long and intense read – a sort of ‘Are you man enough?’ gesture.

All this chest-beating paid off, however – the book was re-printed several times over just weeks after its initial release. But Wallace, uncomfortable with the success and fame which followed, often shied away from giving interviews and conducting himself with the media, which is a trait well-demonstrated in The End of the Tour.

He purportedly planned to kill his famous partner’s ex-husband

Mary Karr
Mary Karr

According to biographer D.T. Max in Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, Wallace had strongly considered murdering the then-husband of American poet Mary Karr in a violent effort to be with her. In an interview with The Atlantic, Max curiously said this on his supposed revelation:

“I didn’t know that David had that in him. I was surprised, in general, with the intensity of violence in his personality. It was something I knew about him when I wrote The New Yorker piece, but it grew on me. It made me think harder about David and creativity and anger.”

(The entire interview can be read here.)

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