David Foster Wallace’s ‘Pale King’: A Reader’s Guide

In the US, today is Taxation Day, when tax returns must be submitted to the Internal Revenue Service. It’s also the official release date of David Foster Wallace’s Pale King, although as we’ve noted before at the Dailies the book has been available in bookstores for at least a couple of weeks. Today was set as the release date by publishers because much of the book is set at an IRS office.

David Foster Wallace is a writer’s writer, and not even for all writers. The frenzy surrounding the publication of this novel is not just marketing hype. No matter what you think of his writing (many find it obtuse and overly cerebral), the posthumous publication of this novel is a significant publishing event. Nabokov once commented that there are only one or two truly great writers every generation, and many consider David Foster Wallace the standout English-language figure of his generation. He was a writer who was consistently able to find new ways of extending the possibilities of the novel at a time when the form seemed to be running out of ideas.

Next week, the Wheeler Centre is hosting an evening of readings from David Foster Wallace’s work to coincide with the publication of this novel. Today, we publish a short essay by Melbourne academic and David Foster Wallace specialist Robert Banagan. For those keen to read more, here’s a selected list of reviews and essays on The Pale King we’ve found in the last couple of weeks.

Here’s an assessment of David Foster Wallace’s literary significance. The writer’s widow Karen Green talks about how his suicide has conferred a celebrity status on him that would have made him uncomfortable. Here’s a look at how Little Brown editor Michael Pietsch cobbled the novel together from a jumble of different source materials. Here’s a bunch of writers discussing DFW’s legacy. Here’s a riff on unfinished novels like The Pale King, asking, what makes a finished novel complete anyway? Here’s a piece looking at DFW in the tradition of literary rebels. Here’s a 45-minute BBC video documentary on the writer’s short life. And here’s a look at the self-help books DFW read in his battle with depression.

Feel free to join the conversation. Add your links to good reading on DFW and The Pale King below.