One of the last times I talked to him after that, in August, on the phone, he asked me to tell him a story of how things would get better. I repeated back to him a lot of what he’d been saying to me in our conversations over the previous year. I said he was in a terrible and dangerous place because he was trying to make real changes as a person and as a writer. I said that the last time he’d been through near-death experiences, he’d emerged and written, very quickly, a book that was light-years beyond what he’d been doing before his collapse. I said he was a stubborn control freak and know-it-all — ‘So are you!’ he shot back at me — and I said that people like us are so afraid to relinquish control that sometimes the only way we can force ourselves to open up and change is to bring ourselves to an access of misery and the brink of self-destruction. I said he’d undertaken his change in medication because he wanted to grow up and have a better life. I said I thought his best writing was ahead of him. And he said: ‘I like that story. Could you do me a favour and call me up every four or five days and tell me another story like it?’
Unfortunately I only had one more chance to tell him the story, and by then he wasn’t hearing it. He was in horrible, minute-by-minute anxiety and pain. The next times I tried to call him after that, he wasn’t picking up the phone or returning messages. He’d gone down into the well of infinite sadness, beyond the reach of story, and he didn’t make it out. But he had a beautiful, yearning innocence, and he was trying.
- Jonathan Franzen speaking in tribute of friend and author David Foster Wallace, 2008 October 23, Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, NYU, reproduced in Five Dials