Four “previously unpublished scenes” accompany the paperback edition of David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel, “The Pale King,” which arrives in bookstores this week. Three of them are nice for any Wallace fan to read and keep, but are not essential to our understanding of the novel about a group of I.R.S. agents working in Peoria in the nineteen-eighties. The last literary “bonus track,” though, is a keeper. And, at fourteen pages, it’s also the longest new piece of unpublished Wallace fiction to emerge since “The Pale King” itself.
Just as this lumpy but often stirring new novel emerges as a kind of bookend to “Infinite Jest,” so it demonstrates that being amused to death and bored to death are, in Wallace’s view, flip sides of the same coin. Perhaps, he writes, “dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there,” namely the existential knowledge “that we are tiny and at the mercy of large forces and that time is always passing and that every day we’ve lost one more day that will never come back.”
Happiness, Wallace suggests in a Kierkegaardian note at the end of this deeply sad, deeply philosophical book, is the ability to pay attention, to live in the present moment, to find “second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive.”
Although “The Pale King” was pieced together by Wallace’s editor Michael Pietsch from pages and notes that the author left behind when he committed suicide in 2008, it feels less like an incomplete manuscript than a rough-edged digest of the themes, preoccupations and narrative techniques that have distinguished his work from the beginning. After all, Wallace always disdained closure, and this volume showcases his embrace of discontinuity; his fascination with both the meta and the microscopic, postmodern pyrotechnics and old-fashioned storytelling; and his ongoing interest in contemporary America’s obsession with self-gratification and entertainment.
— Michiko Kakutani on “The Pale King.”
AHHHHH. Somebody has read “The Pale King,” and that somebody reviewed it in Publishers Weekly. They call it “an unfinished novel,” which, yeah. Quoth: “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.” AHH. April 15, people. April 15.
It’s official, and it sure is fitting: David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel, “The Pale King,” is set for release next year. The posthumous work, dealing with IRS agents, is going to be released on April 15. [ArtsBeat]