Wallace worked on this novel the last 11 years of his life, until his untimely death in 2008, when he took his life. Author of the novels “Infinite Jest,” “Broom of the System,” and short story and essay collections, Wallace left behind hundreds of pages and notes for “The Pale King,” which editors spent two years piecing together. Without an outline, “Infinite Jest” editor Michael Pietsch crafted the storyline, such as it is, based on his experience working with Wallace, drawing together fully revised and rough-draft chapters, handwritten in Wallace’s tiny writing.
Is this the book Wallace would have written if he’d lived to finish it? Of course, we will never know. But it does allow us, as Pietsch hoped, “to look once more inside that beautiful mind.”
Most writers try to disguise their research, or blend it in so it doesn’t stick out. But Wallace’s research is the book, and not simply because it is unfinished. He doesn’t hide it, nor would we want him to because the world he creates with it is so colossally fascinating.
The book has been called “mock memoir”; Wallace called it “vocational memoir.” But I’d call it “fictional ethnography,” a recounting of the work, lives, and lore of the men and women of “the Service,” as they struggle to make the unbearable bearable.
In writing about boredom – about the mind-numbing capacity of numbers and auditing and taxation – might Wallace have inadvertently produced a book that is, in fact, boring?
Most definitely not. The miracle is that Wallace created a book of genius proportion out of something proportionally so uninteresting.
But then again David Foster Wallace could write a book about doorknobs and make it interesting.
“To be, in a word, unborable.... It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish,” writes Wallace, in this book that’s every bit as brilliant and daring as “Infinite Jest,” with a deftness and maturity of writing that exceed it.