The cover story for the January 16 issue of Newsweek: The Turbulent Genius of David Foster Wallace. It’s the work of Alexander Nazaryan, a self-proclaimed “fanboy,“ and it reads that way. There’s nothing to see here, really, for someone who knows Wallace’s work.
Nazaryan makes a common mistake: depsite what Wallace wrote in the essay “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” he did not grow up in Philo, Illinois. Nazaryan quotes the essay’s description of Philo:
a tiny collection of corn silos and war-era Levittown homes whose native residents did little but sell crop insurance and nitrogen fertilizer and herbicide and collect property taxes from the young academics at nearby Champaign-Urbana’s university.Wallace grew up in Urbana, Illinois. His father James Wallace made the correction in 2010:
None of us, including David, ever set foot in Philo. I don’t know why David put all that feigned autobiography in the essay, but he did. Lots of people think we are from Philo. Only we and the residents of Philo know the truth.Philo also turns up in the unfinished novel The Pale King as the home of IRS employee David Foster Wallace.
In 2011 Elaine and I drove around Philo looking for “the blacktop courts of a small public park” that Wallace describes in his essay. There were none. There might have been, at some point. But Wallace wouldn’t have been playing there. What “Derivative Sport” doesn’t reveal is that his childhood home (in Urbana) was half a mile from Blair Park, a park with tennis courts. D. T. Max’s biography notes that Wallace took tennis lessons “at the local park.”
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[This post is a brief step away from current events.]