In John Irving’s novel The Hotel New Hampshire, Lily, the writer, kills herself by jumping out of a window. After her death, the members of her family consistently remind each other to “keep passing the open window.” A reminder to persevere in the rough times. It’s a line I have taken as a personal mantra. Something I chant to myself when I get too blue. I like it on so many levels, because it comes from Irving one of my literary idols, because Lily was a writer, and because it’s so simple.
David Foster Wallace couldn’t keep passing the open window. The author of Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and many other fine, fine books was found dead in his California home. He hanged himself.
It is not often that the death of a famous person or celebrity shakes me. It’s one of those things you note and think ‘oh that’s sad,’ and then carry on with your life, not much different than you were before you heard the news. The death of a writer always causes me to pause and think about things. When that death is by suicide, it shakes me to the core.
The suicide of a writer is so upsetting because I get it. I know what it’s like to live in your head and hear the voices and be filled with a never-ending supply of self doubt and am I good enough and what does it all matter anyway?
When I read about a writer dying by their own hand, it just leaves me reeling and wondering “how did/do I continue to escape that?”
David Foster Wallace’s death is stunning. He was quite young, only 46, and so gifted. He was the kind of writer who I could never quite tell if he was a genius or the consummate bullshit artist. Wallace challenged his readers and when you were finished reading his work you were changed — just ask anyone who has ever struggled through Infinite Jest.
Hell, I struggled with that damn book for an entire year. It infected me and haunted my dreams, and it still continues to hold a very special place in my heart. In fact, I was just reading through bits of Infinite Jest on Monday. It’s where I keep the pictures of my biological father, and since I dragged out the other night when I was shitfaced drunk, I decided it was time to put them back. And while I was there I decided to read a bit about the PGOAT, because once you haul out the behemoth it would be a crime to put it away unread.
David Foster Wallace will be so sorely missed. I weep to think of what bits of brilliance the world will not get to see because of his early death.