Monday, February 1, 2010

For the Soul of David Foster Wallace II

Since posting about my favorite writer of fiction, the author of Infinite Jest, I myself have been wondering just what that was doing in a Catholic blog. I received warm validation from comments by the likes of Deacon Scott Dodge, but still. How religious was DFW? I think this will be a question that haunts me, even as I begin my fourth reading of IJ.

This short story published in The New Yorker over a year after DFW’s death bears a possible answer. It starts simply, with the childhood memory of a toy cement mixer. After winding through a page of typically complex ruminations, the story lands at this extraordinary statement:

“The toy cement mixer is the origin of the religious feeling that has informed most of my adult life.”

Is “All That” short story or memoir? I did not know that DFW ever attended a seminary, which the first-person narrator did; and the heading does read “FICTION.” But whether it is memoir, or story, or (like everything ever written) something in between—and whether or not someone without a religious bone in his body could have written this “fiction”—Wallace’s story of the toy truck is especially touching to me because it bears so closely on the whole question of childhood spirituality that has become something of an obsession for me. And because it confirms my sense that the author of my favorite work of fiction (with the possible exception of Kristin Lavransdatter) was driven by deep religious impulses that God grant may have carried him beyond death.

Read the story, please. Here it is again. It is short; Infinite Jest is over 1,000 pages; choose your poison. You will be touched as I have been by this remarkable man and suicide.

Footnote: Here’s a thoughtful reflection on Wallace that also makes the religion connection.