Monday April 4th, 2011

Sullivan on The Pale King

David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King is on its way to me in the mail, and I hope to review it here before too long. (Famous words, I know.) In the meantime, an acquaintance and one of my favorite writers, John Jeremiah Sullivan, has written about Wallace and his posthumous novel over at GQ. A piece:

It’s easy to make the book sound heavy, but it’s often very funny, and not politely funny, either. We meet the excruciatingly upbeat Leonard Stecyk, his “smile so wide it almost looked like it hurt,” a version of whom each of us knows or to some extent is. As a child he was such a do-gooder, everyone who met him instantly loathed him. [. . .]

Unhappily, it’s with this aspect of the book — the back-and-forth between recent past (at the IRS center) and deeper past (the characters’ formative years) — that we come to know what the publisher means about “unfinished.” The patterning isn’t right. It’s hardly even present. Wallace was struggling to compose the themes of these lives in a symphonic way, but he didn’t get there or, it has to be said, anywhere near.

And yet even in its broken state, The Pale King contains what’s sure to be some of the finest fiction of the year. It’s intimidating to have to describe the excellence of some of these set pieces . . .