31 Jan 2011, 10:00pm


The Pale King Approaches

I really wish The Pale King had a different subtitle. Instead of “An Unfinished Novel” it should say “A Novel” or “An Entertainment” or “Volume 1” or anything but unfinished, half-finished, never completed, no. We can’t edit time, though. The ravages of time. What we face is a future without new writing by David Foster Wallace. There will be many, many future books examining exactly how he accomplished what he did and who he influenced and why, but no more novels by him. This is it.

Without a doubt, April 15, 2011 is one of the most anticipated release dates in literature. I predict that The Pale King will draw many more readers into Wallace’s other works, and surprise many skeptics who don’t believe an unfinished novel is worth reading. There are also a lot of haters out there who think any book by or about David Foster Wallace will now be a pure money grab and they can’t wait to make terrible pronouncements about how something is being trampled. But of course all this is ridiculous baloney; and if you’ve learned anything about the internet by now it’s this: ignore the haters. Look, I don’t pretend to be an objective reviewer. This is my Star Wars, my Harry Potter, my Steve Jobs keynote and Christmas morning all rolled into one. If there were a parking lot where I could set up a tent and a lawn chair months in advance and camp out and be first in line for this, I’d do it.

I’m going to start reading The Pale King the day it is released and I’m going to post about it on this site until I’m finished with it. No set schedule, no forums, but I invite you to share your thoughts with me in the comments here and on twitter under the hashtag #paleking. After all the buildup, I’m especially interested in people’s first impressions of the book, and then how it feels to turn that last page and close the book and set it down and consider what might have been in light of what was.

We know roughly what the book is about and to me, from the excerpts published so far, it appears to be Wallace’s most humanistic novel, one less interested in showing off and more interested in exposing nerve endings. I believe Wallace accomplished a similar thing in Oblivion, but short story collections just don’t have the cachet of novels. (I also think there is a deep, humanistic side to Infinite Jest, but have to concede that not every page of the novel burns with the same concerns.) I’ll be interested to see if the short story “The Soul is Not a Smithy” ends up as part of the unfinished novel—it does seem to fit with the boredom-tax processor theme, and how it fits in with the other characters we’ve seen in the excerpts. But I find myself coming back to worrying about that narrator and his fear of his father’s job, his despair at the prospect of facing that soulless room of white-collared men everyday of his working life. I worry that I don’t have enough of that despair, or that I’ve already conditioned myself out of any instinct to run from such a horrorshow of cubicles. Or that I have no choice. I don’t know, but I think about that a lot.