(mary karr on david foster wallace)
Busted Halo: In your book you describe getting sober and becoming involved with “David” (aka David Foster Wallace) for a while. Were you in touch with him toward the end of his life?
Mary Karr: Yeah, I was. Our earlier relationship was tumultuous. We were both so snake-bit at the time we were together; we were both newly sober, I was five minutes out of a 13 year marriage and he was Young Werther in his own mind. We had gotten back in touch, we were at peace with each other, he had written me long letters of apology, and you know, I’m sure we were both as crazy as we ever were [when we were together]. Like he was right out of custodial care. And went back into custodial care right after we broke up. [Pause.] Somebody you get sober with is like somebody you’re in Vietnam with. And I was so gutted. It’s weird because he’s somebody I maybe talked to on the phone, I don’t know, twice a year, three or four times a year some years, you know, but I had no idea. I feel I have been so healed and so snatched out of the fire, and he had had all of this success. He always wanted to be a husband, he wanted to be a stand-up guy, and was kind of not that earlier in his life. You know, he had been kind of a pussy hound, and really in kind of a creepy way. And he was so proud to be married now. I can also imagine him in his intellectual arrogance, which was profound — very profound — thinking, “Oh, I’ll just go off these medications that have kept me from blowing my fucking brains out for twenty plus years.”
BH: So many people revered him that it can be difficult to separate out the man from the myth.
MK: At his memorial service, his best friend Mark Costello said to me, “One of the most telling things about David was that if you saw him walking down the hallway at college, he had these big Timberland boots on that looked like tough guy boots, when the truth was, David was actually a germaphobe. So it’s really kind of a sissy thing, that he didn’t want anything touching his feet — any of the germs in the bathroom from the other boys. And he would have this bandana on his head; and the truth is, he was self-conscious about his hair and he had headaches. And he would have on like a t-shirt from the community college where his mother taught; and his desire to please her, to prove that he was the genius his parents had wanted him to be. But David also had a habit, where he would pick a point in space that interested him and he would put you in that point and project onto you who you were. And even when you were in front of him, waving your hands and saying, “I’m not Anna Karenina, you know, I’m a single mom with a kid to take care of; I can’t go to the gym with you; I can’t go on a boat trip with you,” he didn’t get that at that time.
It’s funny, I remember Zadie Smith talked to me about him and saying, “He was always so polite,” and so genteel. And anybody who knew David knew that that’s almost like a fake thing that he put on. When I first met him; he started calling me “Ms. Karr.”
BH: Right, you mention that in the book.
MK: And I was almost like, “Are you fucking with me?” You know, I’m like five years older than you and you’re calling me Ms. Karr? Do I look like your mother? And it was almost like this faux thing he would do that looks like he’s trying to ingratiate himself but actually it’s a way to try to keep you away. It’s a way to box you off into this thing; it’s this über-solicitousness that is as far from who he actually is. So a lot of the darkness in the books is David. His friend Mark Costello and I went to St. Francis Xavier here in New York and lit a candle for him right after he died, and I said to Mark, “Wouldn’t he love this? Don’t you think he just loves this: us sitting here praying for him and lighting candles for him.” I mean, Jesus, I hope he’s up there drunk as a monkey with baby Jesus. But you know, it was a horrible tragedy, a horrible loss. We just had a very tumultuous relationship.
BH: He never talked to you about when you converted? My impression was that he was very articulate about spirituality although I don’t think he discussed his own spiritual beliefs.
MK: He had a kind of vague, higher-power thing. It’s funny, when he first got sober I remember he said, “Maybe I’ll become Catholic like Mark Costello” — his friend Mark. But I remember him sort of mocking me a little bit and saying that my conversion was bourgeois. But I know he had a spiritual life, I know he prayed and meditated every day, but to my knowledge, I don’t think he ever had a formal spiritual practice. I really hope that he had a community, you know. I really hope he had a community at the time; I was never aware of that.
(full interview here)
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- allimuffin said: I read Lit not too long ago and had no clue the ‘David’ in the book was David Foster Wallace. Wow.
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- monsterbeard said: Oof, that’s rough to read. But good, since I tend to lean toward idolizing this guy instead of admiring him. And it’s good to be pulled back from that.
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