The whole Sylvia Plath life story has been approached in a reductionist way. I wanted to do something different. Because when I read her journals I see someone who’s so lively, so hungry for life, and really engaged in the world in a relatable way.
According to Gilles Deleuze, “the lives of philosophers are rarely interesting.” This may have come as a surprise to Jacques Derrida, who once spent a couple days in jail after cops in the Prague airport tried to frame him for smuggling weed. (This incident gets ample coverage in a new biography of the scholar).
We are living in a Hesiodic golden age for biographies. Name your favorite dead person, and I will give you the ISBN of a good biography of him written in the last 20 years. The obscurity of your enthusiasms be damned: I assure you that someone has written at least a short, competent life. Even the quixotic British parliamentarians Enoch Powell and Michael Foot, two of my favorite post-war politicians, have received the deluxe, 600-plus page treatment. (As I write this, a sly rogue named Rory Stewart is working on a joint biography of both men, having doubtless figured out that there are enough of us Powellite cum Footians to ensure that a few thousand copies get moved.)
The biggest problem with this part of the book, though, is how unsurprising it all is. Show me a talented musician who had a happy, stable childhood, and I’ll show you a kid who went to Julliard and now plays violin in the symphony. The opening chapters of Bruce, with its misfit kid from the wrong side of the tracks who talks his mom into buying his first guitar on credit, read like a comic-book rock star creation myth, just the sort of pabulum peddled by People magazine writers when they want to explain to Middle America how some scruffy-looking bar band frontman came to write a song that everyone is suddenly humming.
“Every story has a beginning and this is David Wallace’s.”
We’ve got the first few paragraphs of D.T. Max’s Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: The Life of David Foster Wallace for you to read. The book comes out next week.
“‘Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid,” wrote Raymond Chandler. Was the master of noir talking about the Waterford of his childhood? Chandler’s mother was Florence Thornton from Waterford city, and according to his biographer Tom Hiney, the future novelist spent childhood summers sitting rigid at his uncle’s table, watching the icy old termagant terrorising his household.”
-Lucille Redmond, “An Irishwoman’s Diary”