In 1996, David Lipsky, a New York-based Rolling Stone writer, traveled to the Midwest--Bloomington, Illinois and Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota--to hang out with novelist David Foster Wallace at the tail end of his Infinite Jest book tour. The proposed feature never made it into print that year (it would have been Rolling Stone’s first author profile in ten years), but Lipsky held on to his tapes of their rendezvous. He decided to publish the interviews in book form after Wallace’s tragic suicide in 2008. The book, which came out in 2010, is the basis for the new film, The End of the Tour.
Like a number of ‘90s icons, David Foster Wallace was highly ambivalent about fame and success. He realized that notoriety offered certain financial and social benefits but didn’t want to be defined by his public image. He purposely chose to teach at a little known public university in Illinois, far from any major media markets. In the interviews, he stressed his normalcy by embracing dogs, tennis, junk food, mall culture, alternative rock music, and action movies. Despite the esoteric, philosophical nature of his literary work, he refused to think he was smarter than the common person, and disdained the New York literary scene.
Wallace and Lipsky discussed the evolving nature of American society during the 1990s: the decline of human intimacy due to the Internet; the omnipresence of celebrity culture; the loneliness that brings people to church. Wallace admitted that he was addicted to television and alcohol at various times in the past. He spent time in a mental institution after his first suicide attempt. He felt anxious in social situations and took anti-depressants.
After four and half days together in Illinois and Minnesota, Lipsky went back home to New York, and Wallace resumed his teaching career. Infinite Jest became a totem for Wallace’s largely male fan base. Wallace later got married and moved to California to become a chair at Pomona College. Lipsky became a writing professor. Lipsky’s book is our only artifact of the time they spent together. It is an insightful portrait of the life of a celebrated and talented novelist.