By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 2008
David Foster Wallace, 46, a novelist, essayist, teacher and story writer whose effort to come to grips with the America of his time resulted in the huge and hugely successful novel "Infinite Jest," was found dead Friday at his home in Claremont, Calif.
Wallace's wife found that he had hanged himself when she returned home about 9:30 p.m., said Jackie Morales of the Claremont Police Department, the Associated Press reported.
Literary observers recognized Wallace for his intellect and energy. They saw a confident willingness to tackle the largest issues, to search for the deepest meanings, to extend inventiveness to its utmost, and to employ the traditional tools and techniques of fiction in service of an unapologetically modern sensibility. His notable humor was often of the dark variety.
He was known in particular for his irony, and it might be regarded as ironic that he believed it to be overused, and often detrimental to the search for truth.
Praised at the highest literary levels, he was seen as allusive, humorous, witty and, perhaps most significant for a creative artist, imaginative. Moreover, he depicted his characters and their circumstances with a sweep and breadth appropriate to large and significant themes.
Although the word genius has been widely deployed in recent years, those who applied the term to Wallace appeared confident of their judgment. He won the MacArthur Foundation fellowship, often regarded as reserved for geniuses.
In an interview with Laura Miller for Salon magazine, he described the 1,079-page "Infinite Jest" (1996) as an effort to describe America as it approached the millennium.
"There's something particularly sad about it," he said, in a comment that might be viewed as a clue to the circumstances of his death. But he also cited fiction as a way of overcoming what he called "this existential lostness in the real world."
Wallace was born in Ithaca, N.Y., grew up in an academic family in Illinois and graduated from Amherst College. He published his first novel while studying for an advanced degree at the University of Arizona.
He began teaching at Illinois State University in 1993 before moving to Pomona (Calif.) College in 2002.