David Foster Wallace

The news of David Foster Wallace’s death makes me want to cry. I have no special insight on the subject, however.

I have no clue as to what was going on in his head, but I was reminded, inevitably, of my uncle, the youngest of my father’s brothers, who died when I was 10 or 11. He was an artist, and a terrifically bright, scatter-brained kid who was always bouncing off walls. He wasn’t a kid, technically. Actually, he had just married a heart-stoppingly beautiful young woman the last time I saw him, and it was pretty clear to me that they adored each other. I’ll bet they were both younger at the time than I am now. I shudder to think of what she had to go through after his death.

I remember that he was really obsessed with Michael Jackson, and he spent some time working in the Gulf, where lots of young Bangladeshi men go to do backbreaking labor for a year or two. I don’t think it agreed with him. But it gave him a sense of the wider world. I can’t say why he did what he did. I do remember that it broke all of our hearts.

I talked to my father about mental illness in the developing world, and how it was a cause worth supporting. He said, stoically, that it was better to focus on agriculture and literacy and other basics of ginning up life-saving economic growth. And while I certainly see his point, I was struck … I don’t know. Maybe I look at things through the lens of experience and analogy than is right or appropriate.

David Foster Wallace was, without question, an extraordinary talent. I have to wonder about all of the other lights that have gone out unbeknown to us, including children who’ve died before the age of 5 due to malnutrition or preventable disease. What a nightmare.