Wallace does have interesting things to say here, about culture, entertainment, television, and writing. Lipsky’s stated claim about what “the book would like to be – a record of what David was like, when he was thirty-four and all his cards had turned over good, every one of his ships had sailed back into harbor” certainly sounds admirable. He also asserts, though, that this is a worthy book because Wallace spoke just like he wrote, which is a dubious assertion in most circumstances, and even more so with Wallace. It seems akin to saying that somebody delivers Powerpoint presentations “just like” the way they sing in the church choir. Unless your subject’s name is Richard Powers, I’m not buying it. The other problem (aside from all the above fretting) is that there’s an overarching feeling of Lipsky being unable to resist shaping the narrative every chance he gets, alternating between cryptic signifiers and wisehead “I’m a writer and we’re relating as writers and now that this is a book you get to see us relating as writers” remarks. You can’t go more than two or three pages without Lipsky’s shadow falling over the text. And you aren’t reading this book for the Lipsky, are you? The biggest problem here is that, like it or not, his fingerprints are all over it. And I didn’t like it.
I never had the pleasure to meet David Foster Wallace, but pretty much everyone I've conversed with who did (for those that spoke with him for more than a few minutes at a book signing) described the experience as something emotionally special. And yes, those kinds of feelings are likely to arise when you're talking to someone who you also admire, but the kinds of emotions I experienced while reading this book at least reproduced that feeling of meeting DFW. Based on public appearances DFW made (of which there are clips all over the web) I'd say that DFW does pretty much speak how he writes - at least in my reading experience. I'll happily concede that this public DFW may be a different person to the private DFW, but almost all of us have never met that man.
Had this been a traditional biography, i.e. less Wallace, more Lipsky, (and as Matt Bucher commented in the previous news item, we're pretty much reading the transcript of an autobiography) then would reviews be as critical about the biographer's intrusions and make assumptions about intentions?
The Howling Fantods is run by someone who greatly appreciates DFW's work, so yes, I'm biased. I know plenty of you out there read this site for the same reasons. You'll enjoy David Lipsky's book
because it paints a fascinating portrait of David Foster Wallace in his own words, and you'll feel closer to DFW for it.