(click to enlarge panorama)
Up to now, Infinite Boston has not dealt much with the topics of depression or suicide. This has not been intentional, although to leave them out entirely would not be giving Infinite Jest its proper due. These are themes that David Foster Wallace wrestled with for his entire adult life, and informed his writing throughout. Looking ahead to the installments left in this series, these subjects will undoubtedly come up a few times.
On this day of release for D.T. Max’s long-awaited Wallace biography, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, now is as good a time as any to start. Let’s ease into it by looking at the lighter side of this novel’s treatment of depression and suicide—yes, that’s right—beginning with a character we not only never meet, but whose full name we never even learn.
This is the “Viney” of Viney and Veals, the fictional ad agency discussed in some detail yesterday. As that installment explained, V&V’s greedy machinations bore significant responsibility for the collapse of the “Big Four” TV networks. The toll turns out to have been personally devastating as well, as we find out in this brief aside:
P. Tom Veals — at that time mourning his remorse-tortured partner’s half-gainer off the Tobin Bridge by drinking himself toward pancreatitis in a Beacon Hill brownstone…
Veals’ recovery from depression coincides with a new mission described later in the passage, but of his former partner we hear nothing more. In this way, the late Mr. Viney is a fairly common figure in the book. First, he is a background character with a tragic fate; think of poor old Plasmatron-7 at the Warren Street T-stop.
Second, he is of a particular subgenus of unfortunate souls whose actual or intended self-destruction becomes tragicomedy. Think of the Fresno tennis player whose death by cyanide-laced Quik proves catastrophic to his CPR-trained family; or the “late-stage Valium-addicted Amway distributor from Schenectady” who was suicidal even before encountering the Separarists’ highway mirrors on the “Interstates north of Saratoga”; or Louise B. from the White Flag Group, who jumped off Boston’s Hancock Tower “but got caught in the gust of a rising thermal only six flights off the roof and got blown cartwheeling back up…”
As a storytelling choice, I suspect Wallace’s selection of the Tobin Bridge (also known as the Mystic River Bridge) for Viney’s own “map-eliminating dive” must owe something to the infamous case of Charles Stuart, a Back Bay retail manager who murdered his pregnant wife, and blamed it on an unidentified black male. When turned in to the police by his own brother, Stuart confessed to his lawyer and then plunged off the Tobin Bridge into Boston Harbor.
From the timeline established in “An Ex-Resident’s Story,” this media spectacle occurred just a few months into Wallace’s stay at Granada House, a time when he would have been watching a lot of television. And as he confessed in his essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S Fiction,” as a fiction writer, “television does a lot of our predatory human research for us.”
My own visits to the Tobin Bridge were far less eventful, and could scarcely be called even that. I stayed in a Chelsea hotel during this Boston visit, and found the opportunity at least twice daily to photograph the bridge from afar, in the backseat of a fast-moving taxi, through its literal window and a figurative one, a few seconds at a time. The above photos show how close I got, which was both not very and good enough.