A few early thoughts re: The Pale King

>> Tuesday, July 12, 2011

So I bought David Foster Wallace's posthumous The Pale King months ago, but I didn't dare start reading it until the other night. For one thing, David Foster Wallace's stuff tends to be dense, but, honestly, that wasn't the real reason. The real reason is that I was so afraid I'd be sad. Not about the content, but about the circumstance: this is the book that DFW was writing when he murdered himself; the book that was pieced together from DFW's notes by his editor after he was gone. I wasn't sure I could handle it.

And there's something else. What if it wasn't good? What if all these notes and fragments didn't add up to anything in particular? That would be the worst thing possible, obviously. Sure, Kafka's brilliance is something refracted through Max Brod, and maybe DFW's editor was up to a similarly crystalline role... but what if he wasn't? Disappointment would be the most heartbreaking thing of all, wouldn't it?

I'm not far along--only Chapter 6--but a few preliminary thoughts:

1) Goddamn David Foster Wallace for what he did to himself. He was good. He was so very, very good, and what he did to himself wasn't suicide, it was robbery, it was larceny by violence. His words flow like water, his observations are sharply etched as if by some acid, he is, by turns, hysterical and poignant.

2) Goddamn him for ever being that good to start with. I am feeling such jealousy while I'm reading this book. My words flow like hardening sap, my observations are banal, I am by turns wooden and halt. I don't need to write a great American novel, I'll settle for a suitably entertaining genre novel--but damn David Foster Wallace for being so good it hurts me when I think about my own clumsy words on a page. The man fucking danced while I find myself stomping around a bit pretending I'm some kind of ballerina in my shitstomper combat boots.

Anyway, that's where I'm at a few pages in: pleased and saddened and feeling woefully inadequate....

2 comments:

Dr. Phil (Physics) Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 2:57:00 PM EDT  

One thing I've learned is that I write one way and my favorite authors write another. Comparing two authors -- and particularly beating yourself up because you aren't writing "as good as X" -- is not time well spent. I can enjoy Douglas Adams and George Bernard Shaw and Robert Heinlein and Oscar Wilde and John Scalzi, all for differing reasons.

Now enjoying a last book and lamenting the circumstances of the loss of the author? That's a fair game.

Dr. Phil

Eric Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 3:20:00 PM EDT  

Thanks, Dr. Phil, and you're right, of course. Still, I'm sure you've come across a well-turned phrase here or there and kicked yourself that it wasn't yours. And DFW was one of those writers who makes it look easy, though it clearly wasn't for him.

Thank you for the encouraging words.

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