The writer David Foster Wallace committed suicide on September 12th of last year. His wife, Karen Green, came home to find that he had hanged himself on the patio of their house, in Claremont, California. For many months, Wallace had been in a deep depression. The condition had first been diagnosed when he was an undergraduate at Amherst College, in the early eighties; ever since, he had taken medication to manage its symptoms. During this time, he produced two long novels, three collections of short stories, two books of essays and reporting, and “Everything and More,” a history of infinity. Depression often figured in his work. In “The Depressed Person,” a short story about an unhappy narcissistic young woman—included in Wallace’s 1999 collection, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”—he wrote, “Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Tofranil, Wellbutrin, Elavil, Metrazol in combination with unilateral ECT (during a two-week voluntary in-patient course of treatment at a regional Mood Disorders clinic), Parnate both with and without lithium salts, Nardil both with and without Xanax. None had delivered any significant relief from the pain and feelings of emotional isolation that rendered the depressed person’s every waking hour an indescribable hell on earth.” He never published a word about his own mental illness.
Wallace’s death was followed by four public memorial services, celebrations of his work in newspapers and magazines, and tributes on the Web. He was only forty-six when he killed himself, which helped explain the sense of loss readers and critics felt. There was also Wallace’s outsized passion for the printed word at a time when it looked like it needed champions. His novels were overstuffed with facts, humor, digressions, silence, and sadness. He conjured the world in two-hundred-word sentences that mixed formal diction and street slang, technicalese and plain speech; his prose slid forward with a controlled lack of control that mimed thought itself. “What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant,” he wrote in “Good Old Neon,” a story from 2001. Riffs that did not fit into his narrative he sent to footnotes and endnotes, which he liked, he once said, because they were “almost like having a second voice in your head.”