I started The Pale King by David Foster Wallace on August 1 as part of the 21st Century Literature group I belong to on Goodreads*. I was both excited at the prospect and terribly intimidated. If you’re not familiar with Wallace, this first line from his obit (he committed suicide in 2008) in the New York Times should give you a good idea of what I’m up against:
David Foster Wallace, whose prodigiously observant, exuberantly plotted, grammatically and etymologically challenging, philosophically probing and culturally hyper-contemporary novels, stories and essays made him an heir to modern virtuosos like Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, an experimental contemporary of William T. Vollmann, Mark Leyner and Nicholson Baker and a clear influence on younger tour-de-force stylists like Dave Eggers and Jonathan Safran Foer, died on Friday at his home in Claremont, Calif.
So, yeah, excited and intimidated.
The reading is slow-going. Partly because I’ve got other projects taking up my time, partly because it’s just not a book to rush through. Most chapters are deep and complex, scattered with images to consider and observations to explore. At times, it’s immensely sad, other times it’s geekishly amusing, but it is never tedious. Which is pretty amazing for a book whose plot focuses on the IRS.
And the writing will knock your socks right off.
“The mother at thirty with face commencing to display the faint seams of the plan for the second face life had in store for her and which she feared would be her own mother’s and University City’s confined time sat with knees bunched up rocking and scratched at herself essaying to ruin the face’s plan.”
When it comes to creative writing, I think it’s far too easy to fall into over-writing, to turn a phrase so clever that the reader is struck more by the musicality than the meaning. Wallace comes so close to that edge but I’ve yet to feel like he even toes it. I look forward to picking up this book every day.
What are you reading now?
*Are you on Goodreads? If so, we should totally be friends.