Today in Incredibly Distressing News (for a very particular subset of the population): Jonathan Franzen was interviewed by David Remnick at the recent New Yorker Festival. According to Eric Alterman, Franzen up and dropped the H-bomb of astonishing revelations (I might be exaggerating a bit, but it’s certainly a cataclysmic shock for a certain, relatively small, number of people):
Anyway, it was all pretty interesting, but the moment of actual drama came when Franzen was discussing David Foster Wallace and told Remnick that Wallace felt free to make stuff up for his non-fiction, including, particularly his famous cruise piece for Harper’s….But anyway, I’m not sure Franzen should have said it, and Remnick appeared awfully surprised, but he also mentioned that Wallace never published any non-fiction in The New Yorker.
The cruise story is among Wallace’s most famous works of journalism. Jonathan Franzen was very close with Wallace and has spoken (and written) about his late friend several times since Wallace died in 2008. I can’t speak for Franzen’s mindset and don’t know why he chose to share this particular tidbit, but I can speak as a Wallace fan and say this gives me the vapors (yes, saying the fantods would have been too cliched).
Now we clearly need to know more about what Franzen means. If this is true, we have to ask: What did Wallace make up? Did he exaggerate his own mindset during his recollections, or did he invent wholesale details and anecdotes? Simply saying that Wallace felt free to make stuff up leaves an incredible amount of information unspecified, and considering the import and impact of Wallace’s work it is rather important to clarify this.
(Also — again, if this is true, and considering Franzen’s relationship with Wallace there’s no reason to doubt him — this is a huge bummer. It doesn’t matter if countless other writers do it. It doesn’t even matter if he fictionalized very little, or made stuff up only that one time. It’s just a bummer to hear. If it’s true, obviously.)