In the middle of September, when my literary hero, David Foster Wallace, committed suicide, I was a wreck. I was a wreck before and I have been a wreck since. But I didn’t know the man. Previously, I knew that Franzen and Wallace were friends, but I didn’t know they were best buds. Since learning that, I was anxious to hear what Franzen would say about his amigo’s death by hanging and the life that he lived. Furthermore, I always thought of Franzen as being a much angrier and sadder writer and guy than DFW; in other words, I thought of Franzen as being more like myself. But then DFW died and I felt like I had been deceived briefly and then I felt like I had lost a friend (when in truth I really hadn’t). So this is what Franzen had to say about the suicide before giving a “not-so-dark” account of what it was to DFW’s friend which he says was a “great happiness and privilege and endlessly interesting challenge.” Here it is, curtsey of Adam Begley of The New York Observer:
“And so now this handsome, brilliant, funny, kind Midwestern man with an amazing spouse and a great local support network and a great career and a great job at a great school with great students has taken his own life, and the rest of us are left behind to ask (to quote Infinite Jest), ‘So yo then, man, what’s your story?’
“One good, simple, modern story would go like this: ‘A lovely, talented personality fell victim to a severe chemical imbalance in his brain. There was the person of Dave, and then there was the disease, and the disease killed the man as surely as cancer might have.’ This story is at once sort of true and totally inadequate. If you’re satisfied with this story, you don’t need the stories that Dave wrote—particularly not those many, many stories in which the duality, the separateness, of person and disease is problematized or outright mocked. One obvious paradox, of course, is that Dave himself, at the end, did become, in a sense, satisfied with this simple story and stopped connecting with any of those more interesting stories he’d written in the past and might have written in the future. His suicidality got the upper hand and made everything in the world of the living irrelevant.
“But this doesn’t mean there are no more meaningful stories for us to tell. I could tell you 10 different versions of how he arrived at the evening of Sept. 12, some of them very dark, some of them very angering to me, and most of them taking into account Dave’s many adjustments, as an adult, in response to his near-death of suicide as a late adolescent.”