The Pale King - David Foster Wallace

I finished the Pale King recently and was wondering what others might have made of it – any other DFW fans picked it up?

I found some of the writing in it just mesmerising, there are 3 or 4 sequences almost hypnotic in their quality. God Damn he was a great writer, a magician with the pen. It’s also crushingly boring in places. I get that is the point in some respect, given the themes of the novel, and that I’ve demonstrated my potential to change the world by enduring them, but hard going nonetheless [the fourth wall DFW stuff in the novel is excrutiating].
It struck me as being a long way from completion, like 50% or less rather than 80% and just needing some tying together, say. I could be wide of the mark with this, having missed some of the more buried narrative threads, and maybe a reread would change my mind. It felt like there was a lot of writing left for each of the characters.

It’s interesting to speculate whether it would have grown into a masterpiece like IJ. I’m not sure whether the book could ever transcend the tax office setting – must admit it felt like a Hemmingway-esque experiment at times, See how I’m writing about the most boring thing in existence? Now watch as I make it flower with my kaleidoscopic prose. Hanging out the old brass danglers, as DFW himself might have said.

The book is very sad. Even setting aside the circumstances of its publishing it’s a lonely, melancholy read. Given his death, the book takes on an even more elegiac quality – a great loss.

I haven’t attempted it. I am gearing up for another pass at Infinite Jest after reading the recent DFW bio by DT Max. It was worth reading for any DFW fan.

I thought it was really disjointed, even compared to Infinite Jest. Which makes sense, since much of the prose was unrevised at the time of his death. Most of the IRS stuff fell flat for me. A lot of it, like you said, was simply boring, and the book as a whole would’ve benefited from a good haircut.

The most enjoyable sections of the book were those that ostensibly functioned as short stories – the kid who was obsessed with touching his lips to every square inch of his body, the descriptions of Steckyk’s early childhood, the origin of Cusk’s sweating problem, etc. The story of the woman (whose name has slipped my mind) who had mental issues when she was a teenager was good.

Most of those stories would’ve fit perfectly with Oblivion, his last (and best, IMO) collection of short fiction. As with that book, there’s a concern with formative childhood experiences, which is by far the most compelling element of the book. Once The Pale King moves into its characters’ adult lives in the Service, I found everything far less compelling, and I skipped over most of that stuff for my first pass through the book.

Which might explain that bizarre, Cormac McCarthy-esque section about the trailer park and the little girl whose mother was murdered after a car crash, and why I can’t figure out how that fit with the rest of the book.