David Foster Wallace in his hometown of Bloomington, Ill. in 1996.
Gary Hannabarger—Corbis
July 31, 2015 12:00 PM EDT

In the new film The End of the Tour, out Friday, Jason Segel plays the late author David Foster Wallace, in a look at Wallace’s life shortly after the release of his 1996 tome Infinite Jest. The movie takes place during the promotional tour for the book that firmly established Wallace as what TIME would soon call “Fiction’s New Fab Four.” (The other three were Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody and Donald Antrim.)

“Wallace made a connection with Infinite Jest, his 1,000-page opus about an early 21st century North America splintered by drugs, fanatics and a business ethic so venal that even the months of the year have product names,” TIME’s R.Z. Sheppard commented.

And, Sheppard had concluded in the previous year’s review of Infinite Jest, there was good reason for the attention Wallace was getting. The book was a “marathon send-up on humanism at the end of its tether” and full of “generous intelligence and authentic passion.” Looking back at it now, that send-up is particularly mordant. After all, the book takes place in 2014.

In a sidebar to the review, Wallace told TIME that the choice to set Jest in the then-future was crucial to the book’s reason for being. “In a time of unprecedented comfort and pleasure and ease, there was a real sort of sadness about the country,” Wallace is quoted saying. “I wanted to do something about it, about America and what our children might think of us. That’s one reason for setting the book 18 years ahead.”

Now, for better or worse, we know.

Read the original review of Infinite Jest, here in the TIME Vault: Mad Maximalism

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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