John Jeremiah Sullivan on The Pale King

GQ has a really interesting and lengthy article on David Foster Wallace and The Pale King. Even if you, like me, are not (yet?) a gigantic DFW fan, this essay bears reading and might even get you, like me, interested enough to really have a good go at The Pale King.

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, among them the chapter (excerpted in The New Yorker) in which Lane Dean Jr. tries to figure out whether or not to say he loves his junior-college girlfriend, Sheri, who’s pregnant with their child. If he says he loves her, she’ll keep it, and they’ll spend their lives together (as happens). Neither of them has the slightest idea what love is or how to read each other’s use of the word: They’re relying on a bad translation. Yet what they say in the moment will determine their lives. Wallace treats teen romance with such seriousness and fidelity to emotional consciousness that the scene takes on a sort of Bovary-esque grandeur. Throughout are strewn the little descriptive nails that he drove home at will—that, for instance, the stick figures on the airplane’s laminated safety-instruction cards are “crossing their arms funereally,” or that from the plane’s window, traffic seems to crawl “with a futile pointless pathos you could never sense on the ground.” These aren’t showy passages. Just unusually precise descriptions of things we all do and see. We enter and recognize the modern-day office environment: “the desk practically an abstraction. The whisper of sourceless ventilation.” Friends left behind in a small town are imagined “selling each other insurance, drinking supermarket liquor, watching television, awaiting the formality of their first cardiac.” Michael Pietsch, the book’s editor, pointed me toward a late, surreal chapter in which Lane Dean Jr., an adult now, working for the IRS, has a conversation with one of the dead agents’ ghosts who hang around the office. Pietsch called it the novel’s “fullest flowering,” and “as densely woven and tight-wound as anything he has written.” It’s a miniature tour de force, not even twenty pages, done all in dialogue, in places reminiscent of the “Nighttown” chapter in Ulysses. When I asked Pietsch how he imagined a finished Pale King, he said, “A book in which even more chapters are as full and tight as this,” which describes a book devoutly to be missed.

[via GQ]

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One response to “John Jeremiah Sullivan on The Pale King

  1. Pingback: Rojak: Panda Bear | Who Killed Lemmy Caution?

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