If you’re too much of a dink to read David Foster Wallace than you should at least read this book. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky was one of my favourite reads in 2015. I should warn you that this book will break your heart. Despite having read Wallace and knowing his struggles with depression, and his eventual suicide in 2008, there were multiple times I found myself forgetting that Wallace is dead. The book is written when Wallace seems to be out of this personal hell, and he is constantly referring back to that time and how he will do anything to make sure he never gets back there again. You learn a lot about Wallace while reading this book, and obviously, a lot about depression. The interviews take place on the tail end of Wallace’s Infinite Jest tour.
Lipsky writes a forward where he talks a lot about Wallace’s death and interviews Jonathan Franzen (Wallace’s close friend and fellow author). He pretty much sums it up as follows: Wallace was put on an antidepressant that seemed to actually help pull him out of hell, but the drug caused some symptoms (e.g. would react poorly with some other foods, made him sick). A doctor suggested he try one of the new medications that come with far less side effects and Wallace agreed. The meds didn’t work, and when he tried to go back to his old ones they were now ineffective (apparently this is common with antidepressants).
Reading this makes you feel like you are really getting to know Wallace and I assume this sentiment would horrify him. The entire trip you can tell he is uncomfortable with the interview and being perceived a certain way. This is something you’ll notice in ANY interview he does. He is obsessed with the interviewer’s power - in the end, they are the one’s who will shape his story. You also see how much he loves his two dogs. There’s a point where he actually snaps at Lipsky for smacking one of the dogs on the nose. Lipsky also mentions in the forward (and this brings a pain to my chest to even type) that he can imagine Wallace kissing each dog on the mouth before he commits suicide.
“I tell him Van Gogh's story. Van Gogh went into a field to shoot himself, in the chest, with a single-shot pistol. And missed. And had to walk back through town, where everyone thought he was sort of foolish already: terminally wounded but not in fact dead.” - David Lipsky (aside)
Another trait that comes up over and over again is how Wallace is constantly flattering everyone else around him. There’s an interesting moment in the book where Wallace and Lipsky are angry at each other after Lipsky accuses Wallace of pretending to be “stupid” so as not to appear like the genius he is. Something I liked in the movie adaption (that isn’t in the book) is when Lipsky says, “No one read a 1,000 page book because they think the author is a normal guy. They do it because he’s a genius.”
“Yeah, I met somebody there who’d been given shock, which scares the shit – you know, I’m like you, my brain’s what’ve I got. The idea of the brain being hurt – but I could see that at a certain point, you might beg for it, the same way, like in Alien, they say, “Kill me, kill me.” You know? Because it would be – right. There’s a thing in the book – I like this thing in the book: when people jump out of a burning skyscraper, it’s not that they’re not afraid of falling anymore, it’s that the alternative is so awful. And then you’re invited to consider what could be so awful, that leaping to your death, you know, seems like an escape from it.” - David Foster Wallace during interview
One other small bit I have to include because it kills me when I even think about it is Wallace saying the whole trip how he wished he was married. I say this because I am an obsessive Joan Didion fan and idealize her marriage to fellow author John Gregory Dunne all the time. They would constantly wrack up these outrageously high long-distance phone bills when away on assignments. Wallace talks about how nice it is to have someone to call when you’re at a hotel alone, or someone to just talk about the mundanities of your day. This kills me. Wallace later marries Karen Green in 2004.
This book was particularly interesting to me because a few months before I had read Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Wallace and Wurtzel’s history in psychiatric hospitals sort of overlap and Wallace references her more than once. He jokes that they were “probably on the same bus” to the hospital. It was interesting to read these two books because you get a sense that they were suffering from two very different types of depression. Wallace sort of compares his to her’s … He claims his isn’t “biological” the way it is for Wurtzel. I understood what he meant straight away. Throughout Prozac Nation you can tell how frustrated Wurtzel is, and everyone around her, for how she acts. She acknowledges that there doesn’t seem to be a root for her depression, it’s just something she has felt since she was 7 years old. In contrast, Wallace makes several attempts to explain his as something he could potentially avoid.
"I think every generation finds new excuses for why people behave in a basically ugly manner. The only constant is the bad behaviour. I think our excuse now is media and technology.” - David Foster Wallace (interview)
I had not read Infinite Jest before reading this book. But I should say that this book prompted me to buy a copy and start reading it immediately after. It took me 4 months … I’ll never write a review because I am a moron and not qualified.