The Pale King approacheth

It took me a while to read the reviews of the soon-to-be-released David Foster Wallace novel The Pale King. I think I am the only academic who has cried at the two conferences I’ve attended where Wallace papers were presented. I might be the only contemporary literature scholar who is not eagerly anticipating the arrival of his final novel.

And I’ve been saying that since Michael Pietsch announced that Little Brown would be publishing whatever he could agglomerate of Wallace’s final, incomplete work. (Quick note: I am of the school that Pietsch and Green knew and loved Wallace and his work well enough to know whether they had enough to publish and honor the art and artist. I find it ludicrous that some people are alleging that this novel is about cashing in or commodifying Wallace’s death. Those people should, with no respect due, shut their pie holes.)

But I digress (so you don’t remember I’m the one crying when someone reviews a book I haven’t read yet. Ahem.)

I feel like an ass admitting that I cry every time someone mentions the upcoming book. I feel like a dolt blogging about it. But such is my asinine doltishness. See also my asinine doltish posts on parenting, scholarship, flotsam, and jetsam.

I read one sentence into the Esquire review of The Pale King and burst into tears. After two more tries (a couple of days apart) I actually made it through the glowing, bowing, scraping, and genuflecting review.

Now I might actually read the book. Who can turn down a text that Publisher’s Weekly calls “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”? Not me. Already transfixed by boredom and relentless despair. To have that frustration and what’s-it-all-for anxiety narrated by my favorite author?

Sign. Me. Up.

Alsup alleges, in his Esquire review, that The Pale King might keep you up at night because “because D.F.W. writes sentences and sometimes whole pages that make you feel like you can’t breathe.” That is true, sir. That’s why I absolutely devour Infinite Jest each time I read it. That’s why I still wince at the pain of knowing David Foster Wallace isn’t writing any more. And I wince a bit with fear that The Pale King will be as uneven and good-but-uninspired as I found Oblivion.

If I read this novel, I need it to be earth shifting. I need it to top Infinite Jest. I need it to be a gift befitting DFW.

And that’s an unreasonable request, especially for an unfinished work.

That, probably, more than the sadness that lingers about his death, is why I don’t want to read The Pale King.

13 thoughts on “The Pale King approacheth

  1. This made me want to give you a big old hug. I love your doltishness. I love that you cried when you read the review. I love that you feel trepidation about reading The Pale King because of the weight of your expectations.

    That’s the price of feeling passion. Deep passion and respect for a writer who moves you. You miss him.

    That’s a pretty fabulous thing, even if there’s a cost attached.


    I feel the same way about Michael Jackson’s unfinished business. Genius always goes unfinished, and I’m fine with mourning the loss of what might have been along with the present greatness, rather than half-assing and piecing together a consolation to fill a great void. I cried through the whole MJ movie, from start to finish, at the theatre like I was mourning my childhood and my lost present with my brainwashed brother who blasted MJ night and day, danced like a nut, taped his fingers, swiggled his hair like He’s Bad, yeah he was a loon! Someday, I’ll sit back down at the piano and play some MJ tunes, but it won’t be for a while. I need to be able to not cry. I want the happy back.

  3. At least you’re not overthinking it. ;)
    Be brave, give it a go, and just try try try to appreciate it for what it is. Then cling to what you loved before it, and know that the world is a more awesome place because someone so talented once walked around it.

  4. Is it weird that I totally understand? It’s almost like if you read it, and you know it’s the last one, then it’s true. It makes it real. ((you)) whatever you decide, I know you will follow your heart.

  5. This is a nice way of putting what I think many fans are feeling about The Pale King. With the possible exception of some unpublished shorter work, this is it for DFW, the last times we’ll turn the cover of a new book. In the time since his death, I’ve listened to the handful of audio interviews with him several times over, watched the Charlie Rose interviews, read Lipsky’s book, and my respect for his talent and intelligence has grown into a more remorseful and complex regard for his sheer humanity, his sincerity, his humbleness, the way he seemed to be constantly grappling with what it means to be human, how intelligence itself is a thing to be grappled with, how self-consciousness is just one of the myriad walls we build to prevent true, meaningful connection with other people. There are many writers I admire, but he’s one of the few, for me at least, where who he was as a person is quintessential to, a key component of my appreciation of the work. This is why, although my trepidation is great, I’m going to embrace The Pale King in whatever awkward form it is presented. Honestly, it could be five-hundred pages of random, unrelated paragraphs, and DFW’s humanity would still come shining through, and that’s more than enough for me.

  6. TKW said it much better than I could have. Ditto, ditto, ditto. (And smiling, knowing I’m not the only one who cries when moved by greatness and who would rather avoid and prolong the act of savoring the last of anything.)

  7. HUGS.

    Ditto what the others said. If I try to articulate how much that post moved me, I will cry. Right. Now.

  8. Hey. I totally understand. I want The Pale King to move me to tears with its beauty, to help me understand myself better. I want it to live up to my love for Infinite Jest, and I fear I will feel the same tepid appreciation that I, too, had for Oblivion.

  9. Lots of sympathy and thanks for you writing this blog.
    The press is having a fun time arguing over the ethics of publishing this now as you said and loosing the fact that he was a person beyond abstraction. It seems they would rather talk about whether the book should’ve been published rather than the story behind and in the book.
    Somehow I thought DFW believed in the power of books and yet felt too much shame at the way most of us need them just to communicate with one another openly.

    Your writing came at an appropriate time for myself.

    Today, hours prior to reading your blog, in one of those quiet, shifting in your seat, squeamish moments I turned to my wife without warning and said “it still bothers me”. I said this a half an hour after reading a review of “the pale king” and while we sat on the couch exhausted and appreciative that our toddler was napping. My wife looked at me and started talking about something completely different than what I was referencing. It was a funny moment and we both laughed it off. I told her I thought it was because I felt like I lost a would-be-could-be-friend ( i feel really lame saying this. I guess I’d rather say it and feel lame than not say it and feel lame)
    I think I’ll be happy to see it in book stores if only to believe that we all don’t have to be loud, ipod wearing, optimistic, speed-chasing, ‘you have to be happy’, music distracted, eerily beautiful, to have a voice in American culture.
    From the reviews it sounds like the characters are a lot like the brief interview people constantly trying to talk themselves into certain meaning in the universe. Chattering at an ungodly speed to keep up with the dread.
    I’m glad he got back to deeper characters with whole personalities and struggles. Few can do it like Dave.

    Anyway, just a little digi-word hug for ya. Your writing makes you sound stronger than you think.

  10. “I feel like an ass admitting that I cry every time someone mentions the upcoming book. I feel like a dolt blogging about it. But such is my asinine doltishness. See also my asinine doltish posts on parenting, scholarship, flotsam, and jetsam.”

    Point taken.

  11. Got my copy today. If you want to do a blog-along read, you know I’m only too delighted to do so with you.

  12. The glimpse we get of what he wanted it to be a vast model of something bland and crushing inside of which a constellation of individual souls would shine in their luminosity and the connections holding all of us together in this world would light up too like filaments this was to be a novel on the highest order of accomplishment and we see that the writer at his strongest would have been strong enough. He wasnt always that strong….Insightful or regurgitation of the humanist DFW diet? At what point will critics realize that there is not one single sense to DFWs workthat is Wallace as what Kyle Beachy ironically or not called the empathy machine the brain with a heartbeat?

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