It is of course always dangerous to make conclusions about an author from her/his books.
But like a lot of readers, especially teen readers, I thought about the lives of authors all the time when I read their books.
I was a big fan of Bret Easton Ellis in high school, but I always suspected he was a jerk.
For better or worse, twitter has allowed us to know much more about the actual human beings who write books. It turns out that I was totally right about Bret Easton Ellis being a jerk!
Wallace’s work can be needy (but it is self-consciously needy). It can be conservative (but so what? In both structure and language, Wallace’s work was also more radical and disruptive than any contemporary novelist I’ve read. Certainly up there with Toni Morrison. The tension between the conservative ideas in a postmodern context is part of what makes Wallace’s work so important and interesting).
But I am really bothered by the accusation of pretension. I don’t really know why it annoys me so much. I guess Ellis’s central talent is as an irritant. I suspect he wouldn’t even mind my saying so, which is even more irritating. But anyway, in my opinion Wallace’s writing is radically unpretentious. Wallace’s stories tackle very complex ideas in ways that are consistently playful and accessible, and that is their genius. Yes, Wallace’s work can be exhausting and tedious because of its obsessive need to be clear and precise and intellectually rigorous. But that isn’t pretension.