First (?) Pale King Review

Bookforum tells me that PW’s review of The Pale King is the first. The lede is decidedly dour:

A pile of sketches, minor developments, preludes to events that never happen (or only happen in passing, off the page), and get-to-know-your-characters background info that would have been condensed or chopped had Wallace lived to finish it, this isn’t the era-defining monumental work we’ve all been waiting for since Infinite Jest altered the landscape of American fiction. (To be fair, how many of those sorts of books can one person be expected to write?) It is, however, one hell of a document and a valiant tribute to the late Wallace, being, as it is, a transfixing and hyper-literate descent into relentless, inescapable despair and soul-negating boredom.

The review does get much more upbeat from there, though:

Stretches of this are nothing short of sublime-the first two chapters are a real put-the-reader-on-notice charging bull blitz, and the David Foster Wallace sections (you’ll not be surprised to hear that these are footnoted) are tiny masterpieces of that whole self-aware po-mo thing of his that’s so heavily imitated. Then there are the one-offs—a deadening 50-page excursion to a wiggler happy hour, a former stoner’s lengthy and tedious recollection of his stony past—but this is a novel of boredom we’re talking about, and, so, yes, some of it is quite boring. And while it’s hard not to wince at each of the many mentions of suicide, Wallace is often achingly funny; a passage that begins “I have only one real story about shit. But it’s a doozy” and ends with a “prison-type gang-type sexual assault gone wrong” is pants-pissingly hilarious.

I don’t know, though, if I’d agree that editor Michael Pietsch “deserves a medal and a bottomless martini.” Obviously he’s done impressive work in stringing Wallace’s notes into something coherent, but it’s very much an open question as to whether that was the right thing to do.

Pietsch’s editing of Infinite Jest as described by Wallace himself in Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself was an extremely bi-directional affair. So I can only believe that Pietsch must have taken some leaps with King that Wallace would not have liked, or at the very least would have done very differently if given the chance.

Take it for what it is, a completion. Myself, I’ve never listened past the first movement of Mahler’s Tenth.

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