"Infinite Jest: Reviews, Articles, and Miscellany"

Wallace reappears to promote essays

By William R. Wineke
Wisconsin State Journal
Sunday, February 23, 1997

David Foster Wallace doesn't feel at all good.

The author of "Infinite Jest" and other novels [sic] is ensconced in a top-floor room in Madison's Sheraton Hotel, and he is recovering from the flu.

Because he's on the executive floor, he has to take an elevator to the lobby to greet a reporter; entrance to the "executive floor" is by key-card only.

Back in the "executive" room, which looks like every other Sheraton room, two beds and an uncomfortable chair, Wallace slumps down, sticks a wad of snuff in his cheeks and prepares for yet another interview.

"It takes a strange temperament to be a writer," Wallace allows. "You stay cooped up by yourself for years while you work on a book and, then, you reappear for a few weeks, stay in hotels with executive floors and try to be gregarious. Then you disappear again."

Wallace is author of "The Broom of the System," of "Girl With Curious Hair" and of "Infinite Jest."

Currently, however, he is selling a book of essays, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" (Little, Brown; $23.95).

"I told the publisher I wouldn't do a paperback tour. So, they sent me out to read from this book -- but, then, they suggested I do some readings from 'Infinite Jest,' too and that just happens to be coming out in paperback, so I think they got me," he grumbles.

On the whole, Wallace seems like a pretty positive guy, at least when he's not suffering from the flu or rolling his eyes at the inconveniences of "executive" floors.

He teaches English at Illinois State University in Bloomington and says he likes living in the Midwest.

"I lived on the East Coast for a decade. Out here I enjoy not having to lock my doors. I enjoy having people be civil. I have two dogs, black lab mixes, and I enjoy being able to let them run," he explained.

"I never have understood the logic of living in New York City. If you are a writer, you are basically living on a fixed income, whatever the royalties and advances provide, and the cost of living there is sky high."

Wallace's book of essays -- the title comes from a Harper's magazine article he wrote about taking a cruise -- is mostly journalistic.

He talks about his fellow passengers on the cruise. He talks about playing tennis in Illinois (where the land is so flat that people don't grade it when they lay out tennis courses, which, as a result, aren't really flat). He talks about attending the Illinois State Fair.

The essays are good because they are accurate. But, Wallace says, he doubts he will do more journalistic essays.

"If you are going to write accurately about an experience, you will portray people in a way that may hurt their feelings. People on the cruise told me things that, in retrospect, they probably shouldn't have.

"But we were having different experiences. They were on the ship to engage in a fantasy vacation and I was there to write down what I saw and heard. I would rather write fiction where you can get at the truth but where you aren't writing about living people."