Many of the readers of David Foster Wallace have been waiting for The New Yorker to cover the writer’s life since his death last September, something more than the quick Talk of the Town piece by the fiction editor published shortly after his death, some of that “sprawling New Yorker shit” that possessed a certain kinship with Wallace’s work. The March 9 issue follows through with two articles, one by Wallace and one on Wallace. The piece by Wallace is a chunk of the novel he left unfinished when he died. (More on that below.) The novel, entitled The Pale King, is about the transcendence that comes through boredom. I don’t think Lane Dean is quite there yet:
Then he looked up, despite all best prior intentions. In four minutes, it would be another hour; a half hour after that was the ten-minute break. Lane Dean imagined himself running around on the break, waving his arms and shouting gibberish and holding ten cigarettes at once in his mouth, like a panpipe. Year after year, a face the same color as your desk. Lord Jesus. Coffee wasn’t allowed because of spills on the files, but on the break he’d have a big cup of coffee in each hand while he pictured himself running around the outside grounds, shouting. He knew what he’d really do on the break was sit facing the wall clock in the lounge and, despite prayers and effort, count the seconds tick off until he had to come back and do this again. And again and again and again.
The Lane Dean character was featured once before in the New Yorker’s pages, a second chunk of the novel published in 2007 as Good People.
The second piece, a profile of Wallace by D.T. Max that focuses on his writing, especially his struggles in pulling the fragments of The Pale King into something finished, is long and difficult to read at times. It’s intimate; Max relies on interviews with Wallace’s wife, family & editors, private correspondence between Wallace and his friends, and passages from this unfinished novel that, for a long time, Wallace didn’t want anyone to read. It seems that anyone with $20 or a library card will get to read at least some of it after all.
From 1997 on, Wallace worked on a third novel, which he never finished — the “Long Thing,” as he referred to it with Michael Pietsch. His drafts, which his wife found in their garage after his death, amount to several hundred thousand words, and tell of a group of employees at an Internal Revenue Service center in Illinois, and how they deal with the tediousness of their work. The partial manuscript — which Little, Brown plans to publish next year — expands on the virtues of mindfulness and sustained concentration. Properly handled, boredom can be an antidote to our national dependence on entertainment, the book suggests.
The magazine also has an online feature that includes two scanned pages from The Pale King manuscript and some artwork from Karen Green, Wallace’s wife, which is obviously biographical in nature. Hard to Fill, indeed.