kottke.org posts about The Pale King
Marie Mundaca designed a few of David Foster Wallace's books, including The Pale King.
As it turned out, it was too distracting and sad for me to read while I was designing it. Wallace's tiny, pointy notes were all over the manuscript copy, mostly name changes and corrections and small additions. One character, Elise Prout, used to be a "G3," and a phrase that said "been squashed like a cartoon character" was changed to "worn the brown helmet." His notes reminded me of the post-it notes that would come back to me on galley pages of the essay "Host" from Consider the Lobster -- notes that said things like "Totally bitchingly great" -- and I remembered that I no longer lived in a world where David Foster Wallace was alive.
Little, Brown timed the release of David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel, The Pale King, to coincide with tax day in the United States because the book revolves around activities at the IRS. But Amazon and other bookstores have already started selling the book...it's been on sale since March 22 actually. Amazon has copies of the book in stock (I ordered mine yesterday)...your local bookstore might as well.
But in a move that's either clever or stupid, the ebook version of the book isn't available for the Kindle or for iBooks until April 15. Is this a ploy to get people to buy more hardcover copies? Or just sort of a "we didn't really think about this" situation?
The latest issue of the New Yorker has a new excerpt from David Foster Wallace's The Pale King.
Every whole person has ambitions, objectives, initiatives, goals. This one particular boy's goal was to be able to press his lips to every square inch of his own body.
His arms to the shoulders and most of his legs beneath the knee were child's play. After these areas of his body, however, the difficulty increased with the abruptness of a coastal shelf. The boy came to understand that unimaginable challenges lay ahead of him. He was six.
Except that it's not really new...Wallace did a reading of it back in 2000; the audio is available here. A comparison of the transcript of that reading and the "finished" version published in the NYer can be found here. (thx, @mattbucher)
David Foster Wallace's final novel, The Pale King, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, IL, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Foster Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has.
THE PALE KING remained unfinished at the time of David Foster Wallace's death, but it is a deeply intriguing and satisfying novel, hilarious and fearless and as original as anything Wallace ever undertook. It grapples directly with ultimate questions--questions of life's meaning and of the ultimate value of work and family--through characters imagined with the interior force and generosity that were Wallace's unique gifts. Along the way it suggests a new idea of heroism and commands infinite respect for a writer who dared to take on the most daunting subjects the human spirit can imagine.
Kindle users, don't forget to click on the "I'd like to read this book on Kindle" link just under the cover image. (thx, robert)
The Pale King, David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel, has got a cover and a release date: April 15, 2011.
Set at an IRS tax-return-processing center in Illinois in the mid-1980s, The Pale King is the story of a crew of entry-level processors and their attempts to do their job in the face of soul-crushing tedium. "The Pale King may be the first novel to make accountants and IRS agents into heroes," says Bonnie Nadell, Wallace's longtime agent and literary executor. Michael Pietsch, Little, Brown's publisher and The Pale King's editor, says, "Wallace takes agonizing daily events like standing in lines, traffic jams, and horrific bus rides -- things we all hate -- and turns them into moments of laughter and understanding. Although David did not finish the novel, it is a surprisingly whole and satisfying reading experience that showcases his extraordinary imaginative talents and his mixing of comedy and deep sadness in scenes from daily life."
The cover was designed by Karen Green, Wallace's widow.
The Ransom Center at the University of Texas has acquired the archives of David Foster Wallace, joining those of Don DeLillio and Norman Mailer.
The archive contains manuscript materials for Wallace's books, stories and essays; research materials; Wallace's college and graduate school writings; juvenilia, including poems, stories and letters; teaching materials and books.
Highlights include handwritten notes and drafts of his critically acclaimed "Infinite Jest," the earliest appearance of his signature "David Foster Wallace" on "Viking Poem," written when he was six or seven years old, a copy of his dictionary with words circled throughout and his heavily annotated books by Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, John Updike and more than 40 other authors.
Materials for Wallace's posthumous novel "The Pale King" are included in the archive but will remain with Little, Brown and Company until the book's publication, scheduled for April 2011.
The web site currently contains some tantalizing examples of what the archive will eventually hold, including the first page of a handwritten draft of Infinite Jest, his annotated dictionary -- circled words included benthos, exergue, hypocorism, mendacious, rebus, and witenagemot -- and some heavily annotated books he owned, including his copy of Players by DeLillo.
This is really exciting and sad all at once. (thx, matt)
In this week's issue, the New Yorker has a new piece of fiction by David Foster Wallace. It's another excerpt from The Pale King.
Once when I was a little boy I received as a gift a toy cement mixer. It was made of wood except for its wheels -- axles -- which, as I remember, were thin metal rods. I'm ninety per cent sure it was a Christmas gift. I liked it the same way a boy that age likes toy dump trucks, ambulances, tractor-trailers, and whatnot. There are little boys who like trains and little boys who like vehicles -- I liked the latter.
This little tidbit at the end of this look back at David Foster Wallace's career gives me hope for The Pale King, the forthcoming (and posthumous and unfinished) novel by Wallace.
Pressed for more details, Pietsch cites a commencement speech that Wallace gave at Kenyon University in 2005, which he says is "very much a distillation" of the novel's material. "The really important kind of freedom," said Wallace, "involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom... The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."
I loves me that commencement speech.
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.