You’ve gotta believe that most all of what you read in David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel The Pale King was written by David Foster Wallace. After all, the manuscript was trimmed from “a green duffel bag and two Trader Joe’s sacks” worth of paper to 548 pages, as editor Michael Pietsch tells us. But then, we don’t know how much stitching Pietsch had to do. We know there was no “outline or other indication of what order David intended for these chapters.” He tells us he edited “lightly,” and that he cut out”unintentional distractions and confusions…”. And I thought confusions were what Wallace was all about.
Pietsch says, “There were notes and false starts, lists of names, plot ideas, instructions to himself. All these materials were gorgeously alive and charged with observations; reading them was the closest timing to seeing his amazing mind at play upon the world.” This may suggest that the editor did a lot of writing to bring it all together. It also gives us a way to discern, in its dull and stammering way, what is stitching to what is Wallace.
Does it matter what is Wallace and what is not? Of course it does. And our take is that most of it is, in its being “gorgeously alive” (well, maybe not “gorgeously” but “grindingly” or “sadly”) and in its glimpse into Wallace’s “amazing mind.” What’s amazing about it is its willingness to pursue detail, to pose self-reflecting questions and see a number of answers, to find the most absurd circumstances and put them to sound use.
It matters because I can’t help wonder if the young man who is at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Il isn’t — it is! — David Foster Wallace and that as he explains his adolescence in terms of his job aspirations (what a turnaround!), he’s telling us about what that amazing mind went through. There are other characters of interest, drawn in Wallace’s too-revealing style, as if, again, he were writing about himself. The narrative is Pynchon-like in its time-out-of-mind pacing. And there’s some paranoia — big-brother type paranoia– thrown in for good measure. What’d you expect? It’s the IRS.
We’re not ready to make comparisons to Infinite Jest…may have to read it again (that was last summer’s project). And there’s one thing certain: it is unfinished. But this is definitely a David Foster Wallace novel, even some of it wasn’t written by him.–Cabbage Rabbbit