Great novelist David Foster Wallace died of apparent suicide on September 12. CARL SHUKER, reviewer and author of ‘The Method Actors’ and ‘The Lazy Boys’, pens a tribute.

I WAS one of the lucky ones who discovered Infinite Jest in 1996, the year it was published and before it developed its really hardcore reputation and ability to inspire a grimace or platitude in the unread by its very mention. Someone had a subscription to TIME and an overheated, both condescending and admiring piece therein (the fence-sitting of reviewers without time or word count to get something that important and that big under their belts [cf. Jack Green’s “Fire the Bastards!” on the first critics of Gaddis’ The Recognitions]) along with a picture of a young unshaven David Foster Wallace in bandanna and white turtleneck did it for me. I was only 22. In a used bookstore in Christchurch (Smith’s, anyone?) I found IJ dustjacketless for six dollars; a pretty good buy – a dollar a month for the time I spent reading and re-reading it to the exclusion of all else while on the nightshift doing laundry at St. George’s Hospital. To the exclusion of the actual job as well – parts of the book are coloured with the sounds of the buzzers of untended three-ton washing machines at the ends of their cycles; coloured too with memories of falsifying the wash logs, memories of finding pieces of umbilical cord cooked in the near-boiling water, and coloured too with a red, semitransparent, gelatinous, congealed material I found repeatedly and stared at raptly and nicknamed “people jelly”. I mention this stuff only because discovering this writer changes the time in which you discover him like a first love affair changes utterly a new city. I have read everything he wrote. A dollar a month for the avalanche, for the hair blown back. For being moved to tears and for cracking up laughing aloud, cackling at a page, page after page. For laughter; for sadness; for wonder. Dollar a month for wisdom. For a kind of education. For curiosity. Dollar a month for the knowledge that the novel can still do anything.

I quote him internally, to amuse myself, to calm myself, to inspire. I wrote to him; he wrote me back. During long periods of composition of novels, re-reading him gives me back the desire, the hunger, and the fun. He’s written on this: an essay, “On the Nature of the Fun,” examining why authors author when it’s so hard, there seem so few rewards and the price so high. We do it because it’s fun. All the fans seem to write of the same feeling – he was mine. The book was mine. He speaks to me. How he got me through the depression, the death of my brother, they remember. Fans all report reporting on the book to baffled friends and relatives, trying to explain the characters, the Incandenzas: Hal, Himself, Orin, Mario and the Moms; trying to give some hint of the depths those names now connote; and the brilliance, not only the jokes but the embeds (it’s now a noun, dfw, surely; can I use it?), the hints and mysteries, the throwaway arias, the perfectly controlled and structured pieces within pieces; elaborating the scenarios, the acronyms (PGOAT, as in the PGOAT – Prettiest Girl Of All Time; plus another throwaway: an AA-splinter self-help group called WHINERS – Wounded, Hurting, Inadequately Nurtured but Ever-Recovering Survivors); paraphrasing breathlessly the cyanide-laced-Quik-suicide-and-hasty-and-ill-thought-out-five-subsequent-death-familial-CPR-lethal-Quik-still-extant-on-dead-lips-kertwang scene; just trying to give some hint of how good it is—friends and relatives who I guess get a couple of the jokes but are mostly just really, really patient with these feverish and probably cultish-seeming babblers. I emailed London friends with the news of his suicide, and one confessed and rabidly practising IJ-hater/fearer responded, “Did he try to read his own book?” The shock, the disbelief I felt, the horror of this death, this special kind of death, at age 46 of not only the most important American writer of the last thirty years but the most personally important writer to me… It’s too much. I guess now I think maybe David Foster Wallace would have laughed. I sort of laughed. I loved him. I have no words for this. It’s just too damn sad.