Since his death, there seems to be an emerging interest in Wallace’s religious views, and to cast him as more religious and spiritual than he was. What do you make of that?

Eric Been, speaking to David Foster Wallace’s biographer D. T. Max. Note the simple assumption that anyone who takes Wallace’s religious history more seriously than Max does is “cast[ing] him as more religious and spiritual than he was.” The possibility that Max might have underrated or misunderstood the place of religion in Walace’s life is not even considered. But it ought to be considered:

  • People who knew Wallace when he lived in Bloomington, Illinois say that he was a regular church-attender. Max does not mention this anywhere in his big book. He does quote at one time a memo Wallace wrote to himself in which he outlines the ideal structure for his week, concluding it with “Church,” but it apparently does not occur to Max even to ask whether that item is on the list for a serious reason.

  • Wallace frequently said that C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters was either one of his favorite books or his absolute favorite. Max does not mention this. One might think that a biography of a writer would note a book that that writer had made a point of announcing his affection for, but no.

  • Max tells us that one of Wallace’s early AA sponsors taught him the prayer of St. Francis “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Much later in the book he mentions, quite in passing, that Wallace made a point of pinning a copy of that prayer to a wall of his house, along with certain other documents that were especially important to him. But Max sees no significance in this act.

I could go on. There are many such examples. Nota bene: I do not think that Wallace would have described himself as a Christian; I do not think it likely that he was a Christian. But it is possible that he was, and engagement with Christianity (and with religion more generally) obviously played a far larger role in Wallace’s life than Max is prepared to admit. The parts of his work where he does so directly — for instance, the asterisked passages in his long essay on Dostoevsky — go unmentioned by Max. There is no doubt that in these matters Christians see what they want to see; there is equally no doubt that D. T. Max manages to avoid seeing what he doesn’t want to see.