A long review/essay of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace can be found over at The New York Review of Books by Elaine Blair, A New Brilliant Start:That clichés contain truth might not seem like a startling observation in itself, but it’s a startling thing for a novelist of the first order to make a point of telling us—especially this particular novelist. You don’t have to read Infinite Jest for very long to appreciate Wallace’s sophisticated grasp of all kinds of colloquial, visual, pop cultural, and literary clichés. In one offhand clause he can disassemble some familiar phrase or image, draw attention to it, show us its component parts, implicitly chuckle at its silliness, yet also acknowledge its inescapable importance as a mental reference point for his readers. His dense weave of specific and generic pop references—Reebok athletic clothing in particular and the “centerless eyes,” “ravening maw,” and “canines” of horror movie ghouls in general—is worked in alongside spectacular descriptions of New England weather, the acoustics of a boys’ locker room, and other non-brand-name physical details. Infinite Jest is also a novel that relies, much more than it is given credit for, on fine-grained, psychologically realistic portraiture, at least with regard to its two main characters, Gately and the teenage tennis prodigy Hal Incandenza.
Having established that he is hardly someone who would confuse low art for high, or an original insight for tediously familiar received wisdom, Wallace gives us permission to find solace in common self-help truisms without feeling that we have lost our critical faculties. In other words, he cleaves aesthetic standards from moral ones, and shows us that it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to do so.
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