Thursday, April 14, 2011

Crusoe's island

I was both interested in and strangely bored by Jonathan Franzen's essay in this week's New Yorker on his friendship with David Foster Wallace and the strange allure of visiting a desert island with only a copy of Robinson Crusoe.

It is appropriate to the subject of the essay that it should be boring in parts.

(I was tickled by the birding detail about having already seen Crusoe's "two endemic land-bird species" and losing patience with the notion of another week on a small and isolated island where one wouldn't see any new birds!)

(Also tickled by Franzen's evident enthusiasm for Pamela - but he really should read Clarissa!....)

The bit that most caught my attention, both because I found it extremely sharp and perceptive in its phrasing and because I wondered whether it would be endorsed by others who spent intimate time with DFW in the last year of his life (it refers specifically to DFW's decision, after twenty years, to stop taking the antidepressant Nardil):
He made strange and seemingly self-defeating decisions about his care, engaged in a fair amount of bamboozlement of his shrinks (whom one can only pity for having drawn such a brilliantly complicated case), and in the end created an entire secret life devoted to suicide. Throughout that year, the David whom I knew well and loved immoderately was struggling bravely to build a more secure foundation for his work and his life, contending with heartbreaking levels of anxiety and pain, while the David whom I knew less well, but still well enough to have always disliked and distrusted, was methodically plotting his own destruction and his revenge on those who loved him.
It is like something out of a novel by Susan Howatch, somehow; but is it perceptive and true or perceptive and false? Impossible for me to say...


  1. Did you read the interview with Wallace's wife in...I think The Guardian? I haven't read the Franzen piece yet - saving it for tomorrow's plane - but have heard a similar comment somewhere. She, however, was very real and poignant (a completely inadequate word).

  2. Similar comment about Franzen's piece, that is, that there is something perhaps not plausible (AGAIN not quite the right word, but I am running on fumes here and have no energy for finetuning).