My introduction to David Foster Wallace was similar to my introduction to Bret Easton Ellis...I read about their work (Infinite Jest and American Psycho, respectively) in TIME's book review section. Of course Ellis had me hook line and sinker as the 1980s TIME reviewer crowed that American Psycho was the most gruesome and disgusting tale ever penned (it wasn't, but it certainly deserves all the praise it's received). Wallace was a separate story. The review was flaccid and though it did the reader the service of *trying* to eek out a plot description, really all it did was fill copy space. The idea of a permanent form of "fun/relaxation" intrigued me. I admit soma was my favorite part of Brave New World. It stuck in my newly alcohol-drenched twenty-one year old brain as one of those books I'd add to the ever-growing (and rarely receding) TO-READ stack.
By kismet I ventured into a grocery store on 17th St. in Costa Mesa, Ca that had been converted into an enormous discount book store (complete with church-style folding tables and crumbling stacks of unordered and mostly unwanted literature). The first table I came to had Infinite Jest placed prominently at the top of a stack. With over 1000pp it was a brick, tantamount to the large cinderblock "security device" placed on gas station bathroom keys from coast to coast. I proudly planned my days and nights devouring this foreign and intriguing novel, I would blow through it of course(!), taking notes, ear-marking each occurence of brilliance for digestion again and again. I made it through one hundred pages. It is a dense tome, and I couldn't be bothered to sit still long enough (at that point in my life) to properly wade through the hundreds of subplots and subtle innuendo.
Five years later I pulled Infinite Jest from it's dusty hiding place and that time I couldn't stop...I kept going and going until I had masticated every sentence thoroughly. The book truly was an infinite entertainment, it can be read in pieces, as a whole, appendix first, without the appendix, et cetera ad infinitum. It was also particularly poignant because at the time I was finishing the final edits on my first novella and preparing to send the whole mess out into the world to hunt down a publisher. The quality of Wallace's writing and the unfathomable depth of his mind's eye made me work harder on my own writing.
The disappointing part of the story is that I have not read anything else by Wallace that I have enjoyed (I still have several more books/essays to read), certainly no where close to as much as I enjoyed Infinite Jest (hell I even tried to read his epic love story about the concept of Infinity (Everything and More...non-fiction)). I further wondered why this talented and exceptional writer had ended up as a teacher in Riverside (but I'm predjudiced against Riverside, I've lived in Southern California for too long...), seeming to hide away from such bright points as lunches and drinks in Manhattan with fellow scribes and MBA wankers. I didn't follow his career much after Infinite Jest but part of me wishes I had.
Wallace represents the first living author I've felt inspired by. Earlier in the year that Infinite Jest was released, William S. Burroughs died. Had I read his work prior, he certainly would have been my first. Thankfully, Wallace took my top slot and still drew breathe, it was the first time I could complete a book and look forward to MORE MORE MORE! It doesn't matter that he never put anything out that came anywhere close to Infinite Jest, it is still a crude and sudden pity that he decided to slip off stage for good.