When David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008, it was clear he had been profoundly depressed. But the first major biography of the writer, D.T. Max’s Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, out on August 30th, reveals an even more troubled mind than anyone realized. From the time he was in college, the brilliant author of Infinite Jest was in and out of institutions as he struggled with depression and addictions to alcohol and marijuana. But the book is also full of all kinds of other strange surprises, painting the most complete, and warmest, portrait of Wallace yet.
He wasn’t as good at tennis as he claimed.
Wallace described himself as “near great” at his favorite sport, but in reality he was just the 11th-best teenage player in central Illinois – not exactly a tennis hotbed. Still, he was good enough to beat Jay McInerney when they were both at the artist colony Yaddo.
He once plotted murder.
Obsessed with the writer Mary Karr, Wallace planned to shoot her husband with a gun he tried to buy from a guy he met in recovery. She found out about the scheme, but believed him when he blamed it on his buddy. Wallace and Karr eventually became a couple.
He voted for Reagan.
And supported Ross Perot! But his loathing of George W. Bush turned Wallace into a liberal.
He had hygiene issues.
Wallace was so embarrassed by his tendency to sweat that he carried a tennis racket in high school, hoping people would think he had just left the court. He was also serious about dental hygiene, keeping a toothbrush in his sock for emergencies.
One of his best short stories is about Elizabeth Wurtzel.
After being rejected by the Prozac Nation author, Wallace wrote the 1998 story “The Depressed Person,” basing the title character – the most unpleasant person on Earth – on her.
He was a ladies’ man.
Wallace hooked up with everyone from friends’ girlfriends to countless young fans. He once asked his friend Jonathan Franzen if his only purpose on Earth is “to put my penis in as many vaginas as possible.”
This story is from the August 30th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.