Because of the circumstances of his death, because I know there will be no more new work from Wallace, my attention is keen. A few weeks ago in The New Yorker, Jonathan Franzen, a good friend of Wallace’s, wrote a fascinating piece about him. He maintains that Wallace, in dying, chose his readers over those closest to him. I doubt that someone suffering as Wallace was possesses such clarity at the end, even if the clarity is unconscious, but it’s hard to disagree, given that I’ve never even met Wallace.
But all this got me thinking about a reader’s feelings toward favorite writers when they die. The death that hit me hardest probably was Raymond Carver’s. His short stories were a bit confounding but they clutched you by the throat. The poems were much more accessible and sweet, which is what I’d delved into at the time of his death. I walked around sad for days, even though I’d never met the man. He was one of the people I “studied” when I was cutting my teeth over my own short stories. I knew him. And he knew me. Well, maybe not me, but he knew, well he knew...about me. No, not quite. He knew...what?
Although the writer-reader equation is admittedly lopsided—the reader knowing the writer’s deepest thoughts (even via fiction) and the writer knowing virtually nothing about the reader—an illusion of give and take persists. Carver was speaking directly to me, his observations could be most fully appreciated by...ME. I don’t think this is egocentric or schizophrenic—at least I hope not; I hope that most readers have some similar psychic link to writers.
But I would really like to hear from you, if only to appease me, to assure me that I’m not disturbed.
What are your thoughts and feelings when a writer you love dies?