‘The Pale King’

Posted in Book reviews, Events, Writers at 9:32 am by Marion

A moment to pay tribute to the late writer David Foster Wallace … a deeply perceptive writer … author of Infinite Jest, the 1000+ page opus from the 1990s. He died last September, at his own hand.

He was working on another large novel, The Pale King, which was about one third finished. His long-time publisher will issue this unfinished novel sometime in 2010, the New York Times reports. The novel explores the business of a group of IRS agents somewhere in the Midwest. It will be published by Little, Brown and Company.


Meanwhile, the New Yorker has published an exhaustive portrait of Mr. Wallace in its March 9 issue. (I stopped reading the New Yorker after it published a slanderous article about His Holiness the Dalai Lama by someone interested in taking him down for the pettiest of reasons. The cover cartoon of Mr. Obama sealed the deal for me: No more New Yorker.)

What interests us about David Wallace is his incredible energy, turned inward — into the minutia of our lives and decisions. He has boundless interest in the hidden recesses of the human mind, tosses off the weight of convention and connotation, strips language and humankind to a cleaner, clearer layer.

His stories, essays and novels, therefore, are not for the faint of heart.

I struggled with Infinite Jest because it contains so many identifiable cultural references. My preference is to use vague settings without commercial intrusion. Yet as I understand it, Mr. Wallace wanted to document, in his novel, the effects of these commercial infusions into our lives.

My experience with his writing began in the 1990s with his benchmarking essay, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (“Shipping Out” in 1996 Harper’s Magazine). It deconstructed a cruise “vacation” and revealed it for the infantile experience it was.

Another memorable essay was “Consider the Lobster.”

Mr. Wallace manages to humanize this sea insect … and for me, the connection has always been there … he dissects our fascination with this freshest food, and even, in the pages of Gourmet magazine, asks if it is morally justifiable simply to satisfy our morose culinary whim? (He gives props to PETA, too, pretty darn remarkable in such an august, and decidedly not animal-rights-friendly, publication.)

So I will be anticipating the release of The Pale King, along with the rest of us devoted Wallace fans.

Photo of David Foster Wallace by Marion Ettlinger

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