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Published: Thursday, 9/25/2008

A literary star passes

NOT many Americans have heard of David Foster Wallace, a very talented writer who killed himself on Sept. 11. He was 46. Besides a grieving wife, Mr. Wallace left behind a sterling literary reputation that will survive him for decades.

Though he didn't write the kind of books that got him invited to Oprah's couch, his fiction was widely admired by his colleagues and the literary establishment.

Critics hailed his pyrotechnic audacity in The Broom of the System, published when he was 24 years old, and his recent nonfiction collection, Consider the Lobster. He is considered the Thomas Pynchon of his generation.

For an author renowned for being on the literary cutting edge, Mr. Wallace was also a writer who took moral questions seriously. He was not a cynic, though his output was often sad when it wasn't outrageously funny.

In the world of post-modern fiction, Mr. Wallace's 1,079-page opus Infinite Jest is read by geeky millennials with the same enthusiasm an earlier generation devoured Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

In many ways, Mr. Wallace, a MacArthur Foundation grant winner, was an old-fashioned moralist who mastered the art of writing about our fragmented American experience in profoundly interesting ways.

None of Mr. Wallace's books will ever be adapted by Hollywood. They're too sprawling and anarchistic for that. But his influence will be felt in television and movies, as well as in the work of his fellow writers.

David Foster Wallace wasn't a household name, but he left behind an enormous legacy.

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