Dear Mr. Wallace,
I just finished reading your five-day conversation with David Lipsky in his new book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. I loved every page of it and found myself becoming sad as I neared the end. I didn’t want the conversation to stop.
As I read I highlighted my favorite passages in yellow crayon, and I am now reprinting many of those passages here. I will add my own thoughts and questions to some; others truly speak for themselves and I think anything I might try to say in response would only do a disservice to your words.
I begin with the Preface and Afterword written by Lipsky. There are three quotes in those opening pages that I found to paint an intriguing paradox. Those lines are printed below. I will comment on them at the end.
That’s one of our arguments: He wants something better than what he has. I want precisely what he has already, and also for him to see how unimprovable his situation is (xiii).
He wrote with eyes and a voice that seemed to be a condensed form of everyone’s lives – it was the stuff you semi-thought, the background action you blinked through at super markets and commutes – and readers curled up in the nooks and clearings of his style. His life was a road map that ends at the wrong destination (xv).
He published a thousand-page novel, received the only award you get in the nation for being a genius, wrote essays providing the best feel anywhere of what it means to be alive now, accepted a special chair to teach writing at a college in California, married, published another book, and hanged himself at age forty-six (xv).
These words paint a portrait of a man of contradiction: You reached the pinnacle of your career, sitting in the lap of success that every young writer dreams of, and yet there was something missing. I don’t think that it wasn’t enough for you, it just seems throughout the course of the book – and Lipsky brings the conversation back to this point – that you can’t bring yourself to enjoy it. It’s almost as if by acknowledging the success of your book (Infinite Jest) and the fame it brings, that you are afraid the bubble might burst and it will all be taken away. Or worse, that it will only mean unattainable expectations for your next work. I know it is a lot to take in, and I understand that your fears and apprehensions are legitimate ones, but did you – after Lipsky left – take the time to just enjoy it all? To soak it all in? To look yourself in the mirror and say, “I wrote a damn good book, and a whole lot of people liked it?
But it is the words on the opening page of the Afterword that I am having trouble wrapping my brain around. Having read a good amount of your work, particularly your non-fiction, I can see page after page of evidence of not only your genius but your ability to truly see the world. And not only to truly see world, but to find the exact right words to cause us – your readers – to see it too. You opened my eyes – and I know the eyes of so many others – to see what is right in front of me.
And yet, as Lipsky writes, “[Your] life was a road map that ends in the wrong destination.” I understand – at least in a cerebral, abstract way – your battle with depression. I understand that an imbalance in one’s brain chemistry can drive a person into an endless downward spiral. Was it simply the brain chemistry and the endless cycles of antidepressants that brought about this tragedy? And I don’t mean to belittle that struggle in any way. But what I have trouble understanding is that you had a gift to see the world in a way that I think very few in our day can see it. In seeing both the beauty and the bizarre in the ordinary things of life, did you still see no hope?
I just wish your story could have ended differently.