The Pale King

The paperback edition of David Foster Wallaces posthumously published The Pale King has just been released. At the top of the front cover, the publishers have let us know that the paperback contains four previously unpublished scenes. Over at the Millions, you can read one of these unpublished scenes in full.As I mentioned in my review at the time, its a bit of a misnomer to call The Pale King Wallaces last novel. More accurately, its a collection of writings unified (barely) around a set of themes: boredom and its relation to transcendence, consciousness and its relation to crippling self-doubt. As such, The Pale King is an excellent introduction to Wallaces workits the one book I would recommend to someone who hasnt read Wallace before and wants to give him a shotand the excerpted scene on the Millions is itself an excellent introduction to The Pale King. It gives you a sense of Wallaces wildly inventive syntax, his ability to add clause upon clause upon clause so as to make sentences that dont so much build towards a conclusion as uncoil and recoil endlessly; it illustrates Wallaces abiding interest in the specifics of Midwestern culture and geography (Peoria and Lake James and Pekin were corn, Decatur and Springfield soybeans for the Japanese); and, finally, it shows Wallaces concern, despite his famous stylistic experimentation and intense authorial self-consciousness, for achieving exacting care and metal-minded clarity and precision. In fact, its one of the many wonders of Wallaces writing that he is able to achieve such care, clarity, and precision not in spite of his postmodern tricks but through them.Anyway, the paperback edition of The Pale King is well worth the investment, both for those who dont own the hardcover and even for those who do.

Anthony Domestico is Chair of the Literature Department at Purchase College, and a frequent contributor to Commonweal. His book Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period is available from Johns Hopkins University Press.

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