Tag Archives: The Pale King


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So much happened in the first half of 2012/YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE that it turns out I missed a few things. On 21 February, Wallace’s birthday, Berfrois ran “The Depressed Person in The Marriage Plot,” in which Daniel Roberts takes a closer look at the connections between Wallace and the character Leonard in Jeffrey Eugenides’ latest book. Adding to the steady march in April, Publishers Weekly began a two-week countdown of “The Top 10 Infinite Jest Characters,” starting with #10 (Barry Loach) and moving toward #1 (see here). Also, on 21 April came the long-awaited (by me at least) end of the “live” part in “Words, Words, Words: The Infinite Jest Liveblog.”

After a relatively uneventful May and June, YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE came roaring back in July. The monthly issue of GQ featured an interview with Nick Offerman, better known as Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation,” in which Offerman talked about being “halfway through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – a writer who escaped my notice until a few years ago, when posthumously his final novel, The Pale King, came out.” In the very same issue of GQ, a Wells Tower piece on the pornstar James Deen made a Wallace-esque mention of one of Deen’s colleagues: “Kayden Kross, a wholly winning and improbably bookish young woman who reads the short fiction of David Foster Wallace between takes.” On 8 July, as noted, Roger Federer won Wimbledon, which led to Wallace-Federer references in The Telegraph, The Daily Beast, The Week, and GQ.com. There was even a weird piece on Wallace’s faith titled “Roger Federer Killed David Foster Wallace,” as well as an anti-Federer piece on the LRB Blog which noted that “‘Federer Moments’, as David Foster Wallace famously called them, are part of what I dislike. ‘Federer as Religious Experience’ says more about Wallace’s genius than Federer’s.” The following day, Michael Cunningham took to The New Yorker‘s Page Turner blog to explain why Wallace (and others) didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Also on 9 July, the “Nieman Watchdog” at Harvard University offered “Lessons on covering politics from the late David Foster Wallace.” On the 11th, Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians books used his first impressions of Every Love Story is a Ghost Story to talk about hysterical realism. On 13 July, Page Turner posted a piece about subsidized time. Federer’s victory was still yielding DFW alerts when there came, on 16 July, the other significant non-book event in the YODFW: the launch of “Infinite Boston.”  The project was an ambitious effort by William Beutler to photograph and write about the real-life equivalents of various IJ locations:

I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts with the express purpose of visiting as many of the landmarks and lesser known precincts that appear in, or provide inspiration for, the late David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest as I could manage…now I am pleased to present what I am calling “Infinite Boston”: a ruminative travelogue and photographic tour of some fifty or so of these locations, comprising one entry each non-holiday weekday, from now until sometime in early autumn.

“Infinite Boston” attracted broad interest, showing up on The Millions, The Rumpus, National Geographic’s The Radar, Fast Company’s Co.Create blog, and from there the technology section of nbcnews.com, among others. The notice was well deserved. “Infinite Boston” is thorough and artfully done — well worth exploring for anyone who loves Infinite Jest, or is currently working their way through it. The project also had a number of spinoffs, including the super cool, Google-maps enabled “Infinite Atlas” and some other cool stuff available for sale at the Infinite Shop.

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The first few weeks of July were pretty good — but the end of July illustrated the scope of what was happening in YODFW. On the 19th, CNN ran an online story about porn stars using Twitter to gain mainstream fame. One of the stars the mentioned was Kayden Kross, upon whom they bestowed the title “The Smartest Woman in Porn” and mentioned: “She often tweets about her favorite authors, David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo.” Four days later, the Wall Street Journal reported on a past meeting between DFW and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The two men had lunch and bonded over their shared enjoyment and rigor over language and grammar. Apparently the meeting led to some book Scalia wrote, which is not important. What is important is that, within the space of a few days, we could read about how a porn star and an arch-conservative Supreme Court justice both have strong affinities for our man.


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Year of DFW Tiles
David Foster Wallace would have had his 50th birthday on February 21, 2012. If he had lived, and maintained the course he was on, he probably would have been the subject of articles about “David Foster Wallace at 50,” “Boy Genius Grows Up,” etc, covering important topics like his shorter haircut, his apparently happy marriage, and his steady teaching job. If Wallace had let The Pale King see the light of day by now, you can bet we would be reading reviews about the “mature” and “grown up” successor to the kinetic Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace Moves to the Suburbs. Instead, 2012 passed without much notice of the milestone, which four years after his death only serves to remind us that Wallace didn’t live to see it.

But it turns out that the world was not at all silent on the matter of David Foster Wallace this year. In the last 12 months, Wallace was the subject of three books, and author of one posthumous collection of essays. This level of attention is significant in and of itself, but it was not all that happened — not by a long shot. Over the year there came a steady flow of news, blog posts and small insights. There were stage adaptations, a Pulitzer controversy, displays of affection from a porn star and a Supreme Court Justice, and references in TV shows, a commercial, a web video and a proper movie. There was a conference and a year-end fundraiser and an unfortunate moment of our present looking too much like Wallace’s near-future dystopia. The internet – which, it was revealed this year, Wallace once referred to as “the bathroom wall of the U.S. psyche” – would not stop saying his name* Four years after his death, David Foster Wallace is on our minds more than ever.

Some of this was foreordained. There is now an annual cycle, starting mid-May and running through June, of pieces referring to Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon University commencement address. His remarks have become a standard against which the hot speeches of the season are measured, and the address tends to show up on Best Speeches lists and be offered as wisdom that the Class of 20-whatever should take to heart.

A similar phenomenon took place with the 2012 Republican primary and presidential election. Wallace’s John McCain piece “Up Simba” (or any of the various names it was published under in magazine and book and anthology forms) became relevant again, and was often cited as the kind of meaningful political journalism we long for in today’s sorry-ass punditocracy.

But four books and a few recurring occasions do not a YEAR OF make. Most of what happened took place independent of annual or quadrennial events, spontaneously, a result of whatever weird energy was flowing in 2012. It was an event that was both random and regularized that sealed it for me. In early July – just as I was beginning to think that “Boy, I am really hearing a lot about David Foster Wallace this year” – Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to win his 7th Wimbledon. Writers, journalists, bloggers and WordPressers across print and online media launched a thousand pieces with some variation of, “The late author David Foster Wallace once called Roger Federer…etc.” and Google alerts lit up my inbox like a DFW-themed Christmas tree. That was when I knew. Welcome to YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE.

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Fiction Advocate of the Day

Today’s winner is Nick Offerman, with a little help from his friends.  Offerman, aka Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation,” talked to GQ this month, and while covering topics like not bothering Steve Martin and not Tweeting, he also mentioned reading David Foster Wallace and his love for Wendell Berry:

GQ: What books are you reading now?
Nick Offerman: I’m halfway through Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace—a writer who escaped my notice until a few years ago, when posthumously his final novel, The Pale King, came out. Mike Schur [the creator of “P&R” and the guy who plays Mose on “The Office”] did his thesis on Wallace and had been in touch with him, and was absolutely religious about his writing. And Mike had organized a reading in Los Angeles—excerpts from The Pale King. It was Henry Rollins, Adam Scott, myself, and a couple of other actors. That was my introduction to Wallace’s writing. And to continue in my fealty to Mike Schur, I decided to devour the massive feast that is Infinite Jest. But I am constantly reading Wendell Berry—that’s sort of my bible.

No word on whether Offerman is using the Infinite Jest liveblog, but you can watch video of The Pale King reading here. Mike Schur is also responsible for the recent Decemberists video that uses a key scene from Infinite Jest.

Offerman had more to say on Berry:

GQ: What drew you to Berry?
Nick Offerman:
 I was working at Steppenwolf doing Buried Child, and this great actor named Leo Burmester befriended me, and on closing night gave me a collection of Berry’s short stories. I had no idea what a profound influence he was handing me. And I ended up getting in touch with Berry, trying to get permission to adapt some of his work. And he, so far, has refused. He says that he doesn’t want to see anybody’s adaptation because all of his fiction is of a piece—all of his stories and novels continue to flesh out his fictional, rural town of Port William, which reminds me of the farm town where I grew up in. So I wrote him back and said, “I’m annoyed because I have to respect your wishes even more, but I’m so disappointed. And I said, You’re getting up there in years, so if at some point you feel okay about it, I’ll be ready.” I mean, I’d really love—if he would ever give me the green light, I feel like his body work would make a great TV series, a la Little House on the Prairie. We’ll see what happens. I’m new to the world of getting to do things that I want to.

Read the full GQ interview, then read Wendell Berry and Infinite Jest, and watch for pretty much anything with Michael Schur’s name attached to it.

And speaking of authors who invent rural towns, first runner-up for FA of the Day was John Jeremiah Sullivan, for his excellent New York Times Magazine essay on Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!

– Michael Moats

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Chairman of the Bored

Ed. note: Welcome to the first official use of the Trade Paperbacks function at Fiction Advocate. It’s a handy tool for people looking to share thoughts about what they’re reading, clear space on their bookshelves and/or trade for other recommended books. Keep in mind, however, that no trade is necessary — we just thought it was a clever name. All you have to do is click the ‘Do you want to trade paperbacks?’ link at the bottom before someone else does and we’ll send you our copy of the book. Bear in mind, it may be a little marked up, and we can probably only afford to mail it in the US. If you’d like to write your own Trade Paperbacks post, let us know. To see other possible books up for grabs, visit the card catalog.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
If boredom is a sin, does that make it interesting?
Status: Available

A great deal has already been said1 about The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s posthumous, “unfinished” (according to its own title page) novel and the follow-up to the manic-depressive masterpiece Infinite Jest. For that reason, I’ll stick to the thing that I consider to be the single strangest part of this strange novel: its opening chapter.

By way of context, you should know that The Pale King is about, or happens around, people who work in a Midwestern regional exam center for the Internal Revenue Service. After writing the definitive novel about entertainment, addiction and over-stimulation, Wallace took up the subject of boredom, in his next novel2. Turned in his hands, crushing monotony and no-stimulation is made interesting, becoming the forum for tedium-induced hallucinations, bureaucratic excavations, debates about Americans’ relationship to the government, comic meta-fiction, one man who sweats profusely, one man who levitates when he concentrates on any single subject, and one man whose mind is invaded with an irrelevant and unavoidable stream of random facts, such as the “middle name of a childhood friend of a stranger they pass in a hallway. The fact that someone they sit near in a movie was once sixteen cars behind them on I-5 near McKittrick CA on a warm, rainy October day in 1971.”

But Chapter 1 has none of these elements.   Continue reading


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Wherein I’ll Catch the Conscience of The Pale King

IF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE ISN’T HERE to read “The Pale King,” it’s nice that Adam Scott, Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson), Josh Radnor, Henry Rollins and others are.


Given the delay of “Infinite Jest” on audiobook, the best way forward is probably to record all of his novels this way.

Buy “The Pale King” here.

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