What fiction ought to be

He and Franzen talked a lot about what writing should be for. “We had this feeling that fiction ought to be good for something,” Franzen says. “Basically, we decided it was to combat loneliness.”

This quote from David Lipsky’s Rolling Stone piece on David Foster Wallace made me gasp. It’s so simple, so honest, and Franzen nails it. For readers and writers, fiction combats the loneliness.

I have a lot to say.

The fact that I even bought an issue of Rolling Stone yesterday is surprising. Back in 1996 I swore off of RS after I read this awful hack piece they did on Eddie Vedder. I swore I would never, ever spend my money on that kind of shit again.

David Lipsky’s piece on David Foster Wallace who hung himself on September 12 made me break my vow. As someone who really, really dislikes RS, I can say with no reservation whatsoever the Lipsky piece is worth the $4.50 cover price. In fact, if you are a writer of any kind, I would say this article is required reading.

This article had extra-special resonance with me this week. While recording the latest edition of Bookclub Bitches, I discovered that I have very passionate opinions when it comes to depression. While discussing Dear Everybody I realized that I don’t believe suicide is caused by an exact incident. I don’t think there is ever a concrete reason, a thing you can point to and say, “that’s what did it.” You can’t “tell” if someone is the kind of person who will kill themselves. There is never a “good enough” reason, a justification.

Ultimately, clinical depression (which IS a mental illness) and bi-polarism is chemical. For some people their chemistry is off. Those of us whose chemistry adds up are lucky.

I’ve often struggled with depression. Not as someone who has it, but someone who tries to understand it. I think it’s a big black mystery that cannot be truly understood by those of us who haven’t experienced it, which is why, I suspect, the disease is so isolating.

David Foster Wallace’s story is an excellent example of how depression is a disease, something you have to fight. Lipsky’s article is heartbreaking. It shows how hard Wallace fought, how his family and friends tried to help, and how it simply just wasn’t enough. How nothing could have been enough. From the outside it looked as though he had everything — a strong, loving family; fame; the respect of his peers; and millions of fans — and yet he still succumbed to the darkness.

I didn’t intend to write about depression. I had set out to write about fiction and loneliness and voices, because I loved this quote from Mark Costello so much:
“He once said to me that he wanted to write to shut up the babble in his head. He said when you’re writing well, you establish a voice in your head and it shuts up the other voices. The ones that are saying, ‘You’re not good enough, you’re a fraud.'”

And that, darling ones, is the truth.

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  1. Tam 27.Oct.08 at 11:59 am

    Thank you for that (you know why)… I see a copy of RS in my future.

  2. Jodi 27.Oct.08 at 12:02 pm

    Get it quick! It has an October 30th date on it, so I am not sure how much longer it will be on the stands.


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