My Dinner with Andre in a rental car—Rolling Stone contributing editor Lipsky (Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point, 2003, etc.) turns in a splintered portrait of the late, great novelist.
In 1996, the author got the call to drive into the Illinois countryside to find David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) and wrestle a profile of the then-budding cult hero of literature. “I’m thirty years old, he’s thirty-four,” writes Lipsky. “We both have long hair.” They are (were) also both voracious consumers of culture, from the novels of John Updike (Wallace hates him, Lipsky doesn’t) and Stephen King (vice versa) to Saturday-morning cartoons, Steven Spielberg’s films and the latest sonic complaints of Alanis Morissette (Wallace loves her, Lipsky not so much) and the bleatings of Sheryl Crow (says Wallace, “made me want to vomit, from the very beginning”). The two set off on a whirlwind, almost-missed-the-plane tour of the ice-encrusted Upper Midwest, a matter of foggy windows, slick roads and Wallace’s constant spitting of tobacco juice into various fetid containers. Eventually they wound up at a reading in Minnesota that, if nothing else, illustrates how soul-wearying such things are to writers, especially with the inevitable first question from the audience: “Where do you get your ideas from?” In Wallace’s case, the answer is refracted across pages devoted to his wrestlings with depression and mental illness, punctuated by reminiscences of visits to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments. At other times he appears happier, if sometimes mystified by the business of fame and the strange workings of the publishing business—but very much on top of the dollars and cents and at the top of his game as a writer. Lipsky does good work in keeping up with Wallace, but in the end his book is a staccato ramble made tiresome by his mania for pointing out, endlessly, Wallace’s Midwestern pronunciations and with one too many digressions on Lipsky’s own life.
Still, a nicely gossipy inside view of a writer’s world and a beautiful yet anguished mind.