From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace: The Insomniac's Cure

The Pale King  So perhaps it was my morbid curiosity.  I  decided to read a posthumously published novel of a celebrated, intelligent, literary fiction writer and essayist.  David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008, but his editor pieced together a "novel" from the boxes and computer files full of Wallace's latest work-in-progress.  I shouldn't really say it's a novel.  It seems to be more a string of vignettes, some with recurring characters, some not.  The setting of some of the scenes, but not all, is an IRS processing center.  Yawn.

I think that was Wallace's point...yawn.  Life can be monotonous, boring, seemingly pointless at times. Get up, eat, go to work, think about what you'd rather be doing than working, go home, eat, watch a little TV, go to bed, start the process over again the next day. The author successfully captured the inane, self absorbed, neurotic little worlds we create for ourselves.  

Perhaps, though, Wallace was holding up a mirror, begging us to take a look at our pathetic selves.  A character in The Pale King describes a play he's written.  A man sits at a table writing, writing, writing, sitting, sitting, sitting.  Nothing happens.  Only when the audience gets bored and leaves does something happen, though the playwright doesn't know quite what.  The Pale King is like that play, only in novel form.  I readily admit that I didn't make it to the end.  I got bored and walked out.  Maybe Wallace wanted his readers to get over themselves and go do something.

The irony of Wallace's book is that we escape the barrage of minutiae that life tosses our way by reading, but his book purposefully leads us right back to the boredom we were trying to run from in the first place.  Don't get me wrong, there are some brief portions that are amusing in a neurotic kind of way.  But I think I would actually have rather been reading the IRS code than most of The Pale King.  At least by reading the IRS code I might have discovered some underutilized loophole to save myself a few bucks on next year's returns. 

I couldn't shake the feeling that perhaps I'm not intelligent enough or deep enough to "get" Wallace's book, which the turned-up-nose literary types have praised.  I guess "stupid is as stupid does," in the immortal words of Forrest there's a guy who got up and did something.


  1. Wow. That kind of hurts.

    Okay, to be honest, I'm still working my way through The Pale King myself.

    If you want to read something a little less self-abusive by DFW, and requiring less of a time investment, google his Kenyon Commencement Address (most of the on-line transcriptions are de moi), which covers many of the same themes of boredom and tedium in a - ahem - less boring and tedious kind of way.

  2. I think I'll pass on this one. Even if I'm not as brilliant as the literary readers out there, I do recognize mind-numbing prose when I read it. ;)


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