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Biographer D.T. Max: getting inside David Foster Wallace's head

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(Read caption) Writer D.T. Max, author of the new David Foster Wallace biography 'Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story,' says Wallace found TV fundamentally soothing. 'He said the narratives were too easy, too smooth, the endings too pat,' Max said. 'But his sister says in the book that she didn't know anyone who had a need for TV like David had.'

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David Foster Wallace, perhaps the biggest literary star of our era, didn't spend his childhood buried in a book. Instead, he watched TV. A lot of it.

It did not rot his brain.

Instead, Wallace would become fascinated by pop culture and spend his career trying to untangle its influence and power. He questioned ironical detachment and tried to write what he called "morally passionate, passionately moral fiction." He'd write mammoth novels, short stories and journalism.

Born near the cusp between the Baby Boomers and the denizens of Generation X, Wallace became a touchstone for both. But he couldn't vanquish the demons of mental illness and killed himself four years ago this month.

D.T. Max, a staff writer for the New Yorker, has spent the last several years trying to understand the enigma of a man who could embrace life so fully – and enlighten the rest of us about it – yet not wish to go on.

Max's new biography, "Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace," is a hit with many reviewers. I met with Max near his home in northern New Jersey and asked him about Wallace's fascination with popular culture, his messages about life and the impact of his depression.
 Q: What surprised you as you researched the book?

A: He has this image as "Saint Dave," this person who can show us how to live in a distressed world. After he died, there was this outpouring of grief from so many people, even those who hadn't read much of his writing. They knew him as a kind of hip homilist, a cultural sage.


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