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Arts Brief

BY MELEA ANDRYS | APRIL 28, 2009 7:26 AM

Surely, they jest

In September 2008, David Foster Wallace sent shock waves through the literary community for the last time: Wallace’s wife found the critically acclaimed author dead at age 46, having hanged himself in their California home.

After staking his claim as a humorist-to-be-watched with his 1987 début novel, The Broom of the System, Wallace proceeded to rock the writing world with his biting wit, experimental organizational style, and profoundly perceptive cultural commentary. He was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” in 1997; a film adaptation of his short-story compilation Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, directed by John Krasinski, débuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January; and his novel Infinite Jest and essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster are largely considered modern classics.

It’s a shame, though perhaps to be expected, that a man so significant a thinker would be exploited after his death by money-hungry publishers. This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life is composed only of Wallace’s famous 2005 Kenyon College commencement address. The only reason the 3,815 words of the speech encompass 144 tiny pages instead of 14 is formatting — with only one sentence per page, there is plenty of white space. Some may point to this void as a spot for interaction via keeping a journal, while others would point to it as wasteful.

Though Wallace’s address is undoubtedly worthy of immortalization, the complete text is freely available online. This poor excuse for a book may make a decent present for parents to give at their boss’ kid’s graduation party (though like most philosophical “you’re embarking on a strange and wonderful future” graduation mementos, the kid would probably prefer cash), it’s simply not worth the $14.99 list price.

It’s too bad Little, Brown, and Co. felt the need to publish this so quickly following Wallace’s death. Had the publishers waited a bit longer to collect a larger volume, perhaps full of essays by Wallace’s friends and contemporaries commenting on his life, influence, and legacy, This Is Water would serve as a fitting memorial, rather than the commercial endeavor it so obviously is.


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