Tag Archives: pale king

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.

Good Day for Me in NYC

I registered two nice appearances yesterday in those big-time NYC periodicals. First off, The New Yorker’s Book Bench ran a very nice post on the simply beautiful covers for Melville House’s new Heinrich Boll titles. And, as you can see, right at the top of the item is the cover for The Clown, with my name, wee but quite legible:

And then, thanks to Jacob Silverman for pointing me to this New York Observer piece on the David Foster Wallace industry, which quotes from my critique of The Pale King, published here last week:

Last week a blogger at lazenby.tumblr.com posted a document comparing word by word the excerpt of The Pale King that appeared in The New Yorker and a transcription of the same passage that Wallace read at the Lannan Foundation in New Mexico in 2000.

Scott Esposito, writing on his blog Conversational Reading, posted a quick reaction: “What we see,” he wrote, “is a vision of what The Pale King might have looked like, if its editors had chosen to leave it in the disarrayed state it was discovered in. Surely this would have been a book with less mass appeal than the ‘completed’ Pale King that will be published on April 15, but would it have been truer to Wallace the writer?”

Asked about the editing process that has brought The Pale King to the public, Michael Pietsch, Wallace’s longtime editor at Little, Brown, told The Observer, “I am going to save that for another time. I am not sure how much I want to talk about that at this time.”

More Thoughts on The Pale King

I readily admit, I’m a Pale King skeptic. In fact, I’m pretty skeptical about all posthumous, incomplete texts. In most cases, if an author didn’t finish it, I’m not really interested in reading it (with obvious exceptions; e.g., Kafka).

At The Howling Fantods, a great DFW site in general, Nick Maniatis has an alternative view that’s worth a look. Here’s the start:

Over at Conversational Reading in Is This What The Pale King Should Have Looked Like? Scott Esposito puts together a few bits and pieces (including this neat post over at 454 W 23rd St New York, NY 10011—2157 comparing the excerpt ‘Backbone’ in the New Yorker to DFW’s 2000 Lannan reading of the same story) to consider what the published version of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King might end up looking like. I think there’s a little too much scepticism in Scott’s post compared to what I’ve read and heard around the web.

I’m both excited and feeling trepidation about the release of The Pale King.

But I think I’m a bit more hopeful than some others and I’ll try to explore why I think this is below.

WARNING: There are possible spoilers about The Pale King if you’ve been trying to avoid reading anything about it.

Is This What The Pale King Should Have Looked Like?

Earlier this week, I mentioned that The New Yorker has published a work by David Foster Wallace entitled Backbone, an excerpt from The Pale King.

Now there is an extremely interesting Google Doc that purports to offer “Changes between the transcription of David Foster Wallace reading ‘A fragment of a longer thing’ (Dec. 2000) and The New Yorker’s publication of that story as ‘Backbone’ (Feb. 28, 2011).”

The document, of course, offers an intriguing glimpse into Wallace’s changes as a writer over the course of eight years. Yet it also offer more: an alternative scenario for what a Pale King publication might have looked like.

Its common knowledge now that Wallace did not get close to finishing The Pale King, and that the book that will be published on April 15 represents a heavily edited and stitched together version of what Wallace left behind. Clearly, this book has been made to serve the many readers out there who would like to see a completed, standardized version of The Pale King.

Yet, it has been suggested that such a book would have been contrary to Wallace’s objectives as a writer, possibly representing a serious change over what Wallace would have written himself. Recall, for instance, that Infinite Jest is famously an “incomplete” book in that the narrative strands purposely never come close to actually cohering into a typical ending; surely if Jest had been discovered among Wallace’s papers after his death an editor might have given it a “correct” ending, thus ruining Wallace’s vision.

What we see in this Google Document is a vision of what The Pale King might have looked like, if its editors had chosen to leave it in the disarrayed state it was discovered in. Surely this would have been a book with less mass appeal than the “completed” Pale King that will be published on April 15, but would it have been truer to Wallace the writer?

Pale King Excerpt in The New Yorker

In case that rock you’ve been living under is a little heavy . . . & if you want, you can pre-order the book here.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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