Jonathan Franzen Said David Foster Wallace Fabricated Some Nonfiction

Some remarks Franzen made at The New Yorker Festival are still being dissected

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Michelle Dean has dutifully transcribed a noted exchange between novelist Jonathan Franzen and The New Yorker editor David Remnick from last week's New Yorker Festival in which Franzen had supposedly accused David Foster Wallace of fabricating details in his nonfiction. The Nation's Eric Alterman had given a summary, and the actual transcript does not clear up the matter. Franzen seems to suggest that his since-deceased friend David Foster Wallace made up some of the facts in the non-fiction he published in Harper's Magazine, and specifically some of the dialogue in his famous piece on cruise ships "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." Dean transcribes the conversation, and here are Franzen's main claims:

Remnick: He said it was okay to make up dialogue on a cruise ship?
Franzen: For instance, yeah. Uhhmmm...
Remnick: I'm heartbroken to hear it.
Franzen: I know, I know. No, those things didn't actually happen. You notice he never published any nonfiction in your magazine.
Remnick: Not for want of trying but that's another matter, but but...
Franzen: He would have had to, maybe he...
Remnick: He would have fell before the fact-checkers.

Dean goes on to dissect just what Franzen means and how much material he is accusing Wallace of fabricating, but there's no way around the fact that even if the transgressions were relatively minor, they are, as Remnick says, "heartbreaking," to fans of the essays.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.