Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace, a rather wonderful American writer of my generation, killed himself last week.

I never met the man and wasn’t a huge fan of his work, probably because I started with one of his poorer works of fiction; Girl with Curious Hair.

But through the Internet, I was much bigger fan of his journalism, in particular his long thoughtful essays on tennis and the people who play it. It helped immeasurably that David Foster Wallace was a very talented junior tennis player occupying that space a level or two below the pros.

His essay on Roger Federer is finest piece of tennis writing ever and is really useful because if anyone asks me why I’m a bit insane about Fed, or more properly Fed’s work, then directing them to that essay gives precise and beautifully written reasons why; DFW even invented a term for memorised passages of Roger’s play; he called them “Federer moments.”

His essay on the journeyman (and later Maria Sharapova's coach) Michael Joyce, called The String Theory says a lot about the game and himself.

He also reinvented the footnote as a means of having a second more detailed and anoracky essay chugging along alongside the more approachable main one. For instance, the String Theory essay has this brilliant aside about the great Jimmy Connors:

I don't know whether you know this, but Connors had one of the most eccentric games in the history of tennis -- he was an aggressive 'power' player who rarely came to the net, had the serve of an ectomorphic girl, and hit everything totally spinless and flat (which is inadvisable on ground strokes because the absence of spin makes the ball so hard to control). His game was all the more strange because the racket he generated all his firepower from the baseline with was a Wilson T2000, a weird steel thing that's one of the shittiest tennis rackets ever made and is regarded by most serious players as useful only for home defence or prying large rocks out of your backyard or something. Connors was addicted to this racket and kept using it long after Wilson stopped even making it, and he forfeited millions in potential endorsement money by doing so. Connors was also eccentric (and kind of repulsive) in lots of other ways, too, none of which are germane to this article.

You can plough through a couple hundred pages of Joel Drucker's weirdly self obsessed memoir of Jimmy Connors and find nothing as informative or funny as that.

It’s very upsetting that David Foster Wallace is dead.



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