Along with being a five volume work by Joseph Frank about Fyodor Dostoevsky, "Joseph Frank's Dostoevsky" is also an essay by David Foster Wallace. So in a recursive fashion, this is my review of a review that David Foster Wallace wrote, originally for the Village Voice Literary Supplement. It was collected in Consider the Lobster.

Much like I wrote about another essay in that book, the essay manages to work in many styles and themes that are native to Wallace, but in a way that meshes easily with the subject matter. Dostoevsky was a labyrinthine, nuanced writer, and Frank's work on him is equally so, so that Wallace, who was also a labyrinthine, nuanced writer, was well in a position to communicate about both of them. Behind the stylistic flourishes, however, Wallace seems to follow Frank in believing that Dostoevsky can only be understood as a writer who made a profound commitment to Christan values. This came about through his experience in Siberia, where he went from being a fashionable radical to having a transformed, spiritual view of life.

There is one stylistic detail of the work that really jumps out now, after the suicide of David Foster Wallace. In between reviewing Frank's review, Wallace includes little paragraphs offset by stars, where he asks a series of questions: whether altruism is possible, whether we can break out of solipsism, and how we can know about God. I remember on my first reading of them, a few weeks before Wallace's death, thinking that they seemed a little bit odd, beyond his normal stylistic tricks. Rereading them in hindsight, it is hard to escape the conclusion that these notes were indeed clumsily inserted, not as part of a stylistic trick, but because Wallace himself was tormented by these questions, and felt a close kinship with Dostoevsky. It is hard to reread the essay without thinking that Wallace pictures himself somewhat like Dostoevsky: a troubled man who was trying to move beyond mere cleverness to a real spiritual understanding. Unlike Dostoevsky, it seems Wallace never had the conversion experience that could chase away his demons.

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