David Lipsky followed David Foster Wallace around the Midwest for five days in 1996, his tape recorder running for nearly the entire time. While the Rolling Stone article that Lipsky was interviewing Wallace for never ran, Lipsky held onto the tapes. Now, 14 years later, the tapes have been transcribed verbatim (including many “off the record” comments) and published as Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace. To be a fly-on-the-wall for their rambling conversation is an exhilarating experience.
Lipsky and Wallace talk about writers as varied as Stephen King, Elizabeth Wurtzel, and John Updike. They sit in the front of a theater to catch the action flick Broken Arrow. Wallace gives a reading at a bookstore for Infinite Jest, his recently released masterpiece, and he’s ambushed with an excruciating question and answer session (his least favorite part of readings). Lipsky and Wallace talk about Wallace’s rumored illicit drug abuse (just rumors, for the most part) and depression. Every word takes on new, haunted meaning through the lens of Wallace’s suicide, which Lipsky addresses in the afterward.
Lipsky makes minimal contributions to the text—fragmentary questions and explanations—that only give the reader the barest sense of the settings and context. Could the book have worked a little better as a proper biography of Wallace, with the interview cut up? That was my first thought when I started reading it. But it’s clear that Lipsky and his editor made the right choice: Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is an intimate portrait told mostly in Wallace’s own words. It’s as close to an autobiography as we’ll ever get, and it deserves a spot on the bookshelf of every David Foster Wallace fan.