“The Pale King,” by David Foster Wallace, posthumously published 2011
Do I get to buy a T-Shirt that says, “I finished a Novel by DFW!”? This book, over 500 pages, was published by Wallace’s wife several years after his 2008 suicide. (See review of “Consider the Lobster,” also by DFW, below.) It was never finished, hence the fragmented form – at least I think that is the source of the fragmented form. It is a part memoir/part fiction story centered around Wallace’s employment for several years at an IRS regional center in downstate
What can we say about it? Chapters do not hang together. Many chapters stand alone as short stories. The incidence of emotionally-crippled and/or intellectually-odd people is very high – much higher than the real world. There is no real theme or point to this book, except maybe about working at the IRS is odd. Wallace’s obsessive focus on visual and emotional hyper-detail is displayed again and again. One can see why Wallace might have committed suicide. The details of his presumed early life are not pleasant. Somewhere under the layers the book is about an actual boring job, which few writers ever talk about, evidently being above that. Embedded in many chapters are immense jokes and a subversive sense of humor. You might say the whole thing makes fun of just about everyone, including DF Wallace, yet draping everything in a certain sadness at the same time.
And here again, one might see the central weakness of present fiction produced by consecrated genius. An IRS employee might find this one hard to understand, in spite of the voluminous tax jargon spread throughout the book. As I pointed out in my review of “Consider the Lobster,” Wallace admired Dostoevsky because Dostoevsky had something to say. After 500 pages, a non-IRS reader might also wonder what Wallace has just said. But that, I guess, is exactly what educated hipsters like.
And I did not buy it at May Day books.
May 28, 2012