Every Love Story is a Ghost Story

A Life of David Foster Wallace

D.T. Max

Published: 2 February 2012
Hardback, Royal HB
156x234mm, 368 pages
ISBN: 9781847084941

Other Editions


Image of

Published: 4 July 2013
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 368 pages
ISBN: 9781847084958

Ebook Available


In his lifetime, David Foster Wallace was lauded by critics and loved by fans. But even to those who had barely read his work, he was something of a cult figure. Since his suicide in 2008, Wallace has become the Kurt Cobain of the printed word, and his life and death now stand as symbols of a generation's hopes and their despair. In this compelling account of Wallace's evolution from anxious adolescent into post-modern anti-hero, D. T. Max speaks to those who knew him intimately and those who were drawn to him from afar to tell the story of a man struggling to write authentically about "what it is to be a f***ing human being" against the frenetic noise of modern life and the cavernous void of American culture. This is a story of drugs and depression, of madness, competitiveness, genius and creativity intertwined, of a man who felt profoundly lost but still found a way to capture this lostness in words and hold it defiantly aloft, like a flag for his generation.

About the author

Image of D.T. Max

D. T. MAX is a journalist and essayist who has written for the New York Times Book Review, and the LA Times. He is currently a Staff Writer with the New Yorker, His previous book with Portobello was The Family That Couldn't Sleep (2007). www.dtmax.com More about the author


‘A painful and painstaking biography’ Robert McCrum, Books of the Year



‘Gives the reader a sympathetic portrait of the artist as a young man... Revealing’ Michiko Kakutani, Books of the Year

‘A highly acclaimed biography’ Lesley McDowell, Books of the Year

‘A compelling, empathetic account’ Emily Stokes, Books of the Year

‘Max is brilliant and quietly devastating’ Books of the Year

‘No book has absorbed me more this year’ Jason Cowley, Books of the Year

‘A clear-eyed, penetrating and well-written account that will be essential to fans’

‘Graceful and well-researched... Wallace's struggle with depression is one of the main points of orientation for Max's biography, and it's the most valuable contribution of the book’ Thomas Meaney

‘Revelatory... lays bare the torments of a mind on fire’ Jeff Baker

‘Max traces [Wallace's] brilliant and difficult life with great elegance and lucidity... smartly resists the skewed telepathy-effect that plagues so many biographies, remaining empathetic without suggesting an unequalled insight into his subject's thoughts... darkly fascinating’ Charlie Fox

‘This book is very well-researched, deeply sympathetic, and incredibly painful to read. We should feel grateful that this story was told by someone as talented and responsible as D.T. Max.’ Dave Eggers, author

‘Very, very good ... Every Love Story is a Ghost Story is relatively discreet about the details of Wallace's eventual suicide, but I'm not sure I've read anything that makes the deep structural reasons for a suicide so apparent ... What emerges from this book, in the end, is a man for whom the truth - about the world, about writing, about himself, about what truth itself is - was incredibly complex. He was also someone who, despite everything, did enjoy - or at least crave - his place in the pantheon. And so it would be closer to the complex truth to say that David Foster Wallace would have hated this biography, but also loved it.’ David Baddiel

‘Vividly evokes Wallace's enduring precocity’

‘Thoroughly researched and dense with information... Honest and complex... Wallace was our best writer - and Max's biography is worthy of his legacy’ Scott Parker

‘This book should be handed to anyone who wants to write, if only to remind the aspiring writer that becoming a voice of generational significance turns out to be very poor insulation indeed from struggle, fear, and despair. D. T. Max is beautifully attuned to Wallace's strengths, whether personal or literary, and bracingly clear-sighted on his flaws. The result is a book that's moving, surprising (Wallace voted for Reagan?), and hugely disquieting. If you love Wallace's work, you obviously need to read this book; if you don't love Wallace's work, you especially need to read this book.’ Tom Bissell, author

‘Max's approach is clean and methodical, and when he interjects it is neatly done ... But mostly he stays out of the way and keeps his judgements to himself, so that the experience of reading Every Love Story is cocoon-like, a highly pressurised echo chamber that gets somewhere close to what it must have felt like to know Wallace. It turns out that he was perhaps one of literature's last great letter writers, and his casually intense and self-deprecating voice is all over the book.’ Ben Hamilton

‘This is a fine, sympathetic piece of work ... detailed yet economical, shrewd and subtle about the writing, and detached enough about the life to make clear, from time to time, that this candidate for secular sainthood could also be a jerk.’ Sam Leith

‘While Max appears to greatly admire Wallace as a writer and feel compassion for him as a man, he is never starry-eyed, or pulls his punches. Illuminating, multifaceted, and as serious an estimation of David Foster Wallace's life and work as we can hope to find’ Elissa Schappell

‘A mercifully low-key, meditative book... as much iconography as biography’ Iain Finlayson, Books of the Year

‘Max unveils a sympathetic portrait of a top philosophy student, promiscuous pot-head and depressed drama junkie’ Nicholas Shakespeare, Books of the Year

‘Very, very good... Every Love Story is a Ghost Story is relatively discreet about the details of Foster Wallace's eventual suicide, but I'm not sure I've read anything that makes the deep structural reasons for a suicide so apparent’ David Baddiel

‘A superb biography... [that] feels fresh rather than hurried... [It] not only brings Wallace to life, it brings the work into play as well. Max is a very smart writer’ Benjamin Markovits

‘A scrupulous and affecting biography’ Jason Cowley

‘Flowing, affecting [and] meticulously researched’

‘A tremendous biography... Luminously tying Wallace's writings to his life, and charting the course of his -literary development with outstanding subtlety, Max is too elegant a biographer to overegg how terrible Wallace could be and how much his behaviour might have been rooted in something nefarious in his family's past. Instead, the evidence is simply, and devastatingly, left on view in this supremely understated and magnificently comprehensive life of a remarkable writer.’ Robert Collins

‘A convincing, and moving, portrait of a highly intelligent and highly troubled writer... it's brisk and insightful and smart, and probably the best Wallace biography that's going to come out for decades now’ Paul Constant

‘[An] outstanding biography...Max doesn't ignore flaws, but he is sympathetic...He tells Wallace's story with light, confident control...Max also refrains from being gossipy or gratuitous. Above all, he lets Wallace's voice come through’ Holly Silva

‘A well-crafted, insightful chronicle... Max's biography succeeds on multiple levels: through his astute interpretations of Wallace's literary output, this book very much embodies the spirit and life of Wallace...for this reader, the biography provides a measure of solace - that is this great writer can't be among us, at least he can be remembered in all of his genius and complexity S. Kirk Walsh

‘A nuanced, deeply reported and fiercely sad book. Max moves the popular statue of Wallace out of the way and replaces it with a smaller, truer monument that portrays a much less straightforwardly endearing man than the Saint Dave of the devotee's imagination, but reveres him nonetheless. Max shows a truly ethical self-discipline in refraining from assumption about what was going on in that troubled brain. Working with the co-operation of most of those who were close to Wallace, as well as with access to a large number of his extraordinary letters, Max shows an addict whose path to recovery is as fundamental to the writer he became as everyone suspected.’ Archie Bland

‘A damnably readable, streamlined, yet deeply researched work. Skipping the ancestors and aftermath of conventional biography, Max gives us the man, his work, and his times--the niceties of which (so complicated, so exquisitely intertwined) Max articulates with, well, Wallace-like lucidity and wit. Above all this is the story of a touching young man who insisted on being something better than simply the smartest person in the room.’ Blake Bailey, author

‘An exceptionally well-told and judicious biography’ Sam Leith

‘All readers, even those who know nothing of Wallace, will be moved by the portrayal of one man's honest struggle with mental illness... deeply sympathetic and surprisingly inspiring’ Sam Sacks

‘Brilliant and compulsively readable... strips away the legend and gives us an all-too-human writer...a convincingly intimate and lucid narrative...Max is respectful throughout - and his account of the writer's final days is devastatingly measured’ Taylor Antrim

‘I'm having trouble remembering when I was last so consumed by any piece of writing... Compulsively readable’ Mark O’Connell

‘I'd worried that by making David Foster Wallace less mythic, D. T. Max would make him smaller. But the accretion of well-chosen details makes Wallace greater: a complete human being, one whom these superbly reported pages allow us to know rather than to worship. And that makes his loss even more unbearable.’ Anne Fadiman, author

‘Full of all kinds of strange surprises, painting the most complete, and warmest, portrait of Wallace yet’

‘Max has done an admirable job... what emerges is a vivid portrait of an artist whose verbal brilliance was continually hampered, and ultimately silenced, by debilitating mental illness’ Steve Almond

‘Insightful... the snapshots of [Wallace's] thoughts and actions are priceless’ Steve Weinberg

‘Luminously [ties] Wallace's writings to his life, and chart[s] the course of his -literary development with outstanding subtlety... [A] supremely understated and magnificently comprehensive life of a remarkable writer... Tremendous’ Robert Collins

Mind Unit - websites, content management and email marketing for the arts