Essay on Wallace in GQ

This essay has been making the rounds. I’ve seen a lot of people say it is the best piece of Pale King coverage out there (admittedly, a pretty uninspiring lot so far). I think it’s a pretty bad essay. For instance:

What’s strange is that this was written in 1996—by then, Wallace had completed his genre-impacting second novel, Infinite Jest, as well as the stories, a couple already considered classic, in the collection Girl with Curious Hair.

I don’t really know what “genre-impacting” is supposed to mean (which genre? how?), nor am I sure which two stories are being referred to. Seems that someone who actually knows Wallace’s work, plus someone who hems and haws so much about how hard it is to explain Wallace in “this oversaturated mediascape” could have said something more distinct. Problem is, imprecise thoughts like this are all throughout this smarmy piece of writing.


His voice was regional in more than one sense—the fastidiousness about usage, for instance. Only midwesterners will waste time over the grammar of small talk with you; nowhere else, when you ask, “Can I get an iced tea?,” does anyone ever say, “I don’t know…can you?” And Wallace did think of himself as in some ways a regional writer—else he’d never have let the über-author photographer Marion Ettlinger take the well-known trench-coat-lion shot of him smiling wryly beside a waving cornfield.

I can think of a lot better ways to define Wallace as a “Midwestern” writer than as above. For the record, I heard the “can you” thing about a million times growing up in Southern California, perhaps as far as one can be from the Midwest.

And then there are profundities like this:

Fiction can only substitute the chaos of text for the chaos of talk. It replaces the mirrors in the hall with other mirrors.

Woe be the English lit major who puts this nonsense on her term paper.

Anyway, not really sure that I have a larger point other than this piece isn’t that great, and the people who claimed to me on Twitter that it is have led me astray.

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Where did the author grow up that people didn’t correct his grammar growing up, especially in the way mentioned? You got Southern California covered, I’ve got Massachusetts covered.

Benjamin Alsup’s recent piece on Pale King (& DFW) in Esquire ( is much better—it actually got me to finally order a copy, which I had been hemming & hawing about, the book being posthumous, and post-death publishing about and by DFW being a new, strange world I have yet to wrap my head around.

Man do I tire of every review of The Pale King starting out with a biography of DFW.

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