Wallace believed, I think, that one way out of Neal’s labyrinthine artificiality, out of his preoccupation with selling “a certain image” of himself to every person he met, was to practice a rigorous, imaginative compassion. If Wallace could persuade himself that he was able to conjure even an inkling of Neal’s inner life, then he, at least, might feel a little less alone. By getting it down on paper, he could further subdue that loneliness in other people, as other writers had subdued it in him. This was, in part, literature’s purpose, a task to which it was uniquely suited. Perhaps, at times, it also became Wallace’s purpose, and kept him alive a little longer as a result. So if we decide that “Good ol’ Neon” is primarily about Wallace’s own suffering, we betray him. That would amount to insisting that no matter how hard he tried to escape, he remained trapped in himself, concerned only with himself.