I don’t wear my influences on my sleeve, but for those who know me and the influences, they are there if you know what to look for. Ronnie de Sousa and Joe Heath taught me how to think about the world, while Mark Kingwell and Martin Amis taught me how to write about it. But of the four, the one who made me ache to become a writer was David Foster Wallace. In 1996, we all bought Infinite Jest and spent a long, lazy summer reading and rereading it, quoting passages at one another and rehearsing scenes.
He published some great journalism, one groundbreaking essay on television and American fiction, and then won a MacArthur fellowship. He pissed away his talent on bad books about math and self-indulgent essays about lobsters, but we kept waiting for something, anything, that would remind us of the glorious, overwritten mess of genius that is Infinite Jest. He descended, frankly, into self-parody.
But so what? Life is long and literature is eternal; he was still young, still exuberantly talented. We could wait.
In the prologue to my old paperback of Wired, Bob Woodward quotes from a note left on Belushi’s grave, which has become sort of his epitaph:
“He could have given us a lot more laughs, but NOOOOOOO!”