Published by Broadway, 352 pp, $19.99, softcover
Arriving just 18 months after the man’s suicide, David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself leads the pack of posthumous books about David Foster Wallace, the prodigiously talented experimental American writer who hanged himself in his garage, following a renewed bout of depression, in 2008. A biography is due sometime next year, as is a pieced-together version of The Pale King, the unfinished novel that Wallace spent more than a decade working on, and that was to be his follow-up to 1996’s Infinite Jest.
For now, though, we have Lipsky’s book, a loose but addictive travelogue culled from the five days he spent with Wallace during the publicity tour for Infinite Jest. A nervous young journalist on assignment for Rolling Stone, Lipsky ran his tape recorder for hours at a time, letting the conversation drift from Wallace’s newfound celebrity (and his painful discomfort therewith), to the monklike discipline required to write a 1,000-page novel, to gossip about movies, music, and the publishing world.
As a stenographer, Lipsky is often infuriating. The book is more or less raw transcription, but the author abuses punctuation whenever humanly possible, and his parenthetical commentaries are showoff-y and banal, not to mention distracting.
Luckily, as a companion, he’s superb. It must’ve been no small effort to pry such personal answers out of an introvert like Wallace—particularly in tender areas like his rumoured addiction to heroin—but Lipsky pulled it off.
There’s a kind of adrenaline in this fly-on-the-wall approach that rubs off on the reader like a contact high, as you sit back and watch these two ultra-smart guys banter back and forth, talking big and trying to figure one another out. It’s no surprise that Lipsky takes to Wallace so easily: the man is every bit as clever and big-hearted as his reputation indicated, and the intimate nature of the transcripts only makes him that much more imperfect and human.
But the real heart-swelling moment comes when Wallace admits that he’s grown fond of his interviewer, too. During the last of their spiralling conversations, he says, “I’ll read The Art Fair [Lipsky’s 1996 novel]”¦and I’ll send you a note. I’m gonna be very curious to see how—to see what it’s like being inside your head.”
For Wallace fans, this is essential reading.