David Foster Wallace

Wallace’s new novel – The Pale King -arrived in the mail this morning. It’s unfinished, of course, but as editor Michael Pietsch (who also edited Infinite Jest) explains in a moving preface, it was far enough along to merit publication. How can we not look, asks Pietsch, even though “everyone who worked with David knows well how he resisted letting the world see work that was not refined to his exacting standard”. Exactly. I must say that I was among those condemning Dmitri Nabokov last year when he disobeyed his father’s instruction to burn The Original of Laura if it was unfinished at the time of Vladimir’s death – which it was – and published it anyway. I just thought it was rude (not being a big Nabokov fan) but I think most of the lit community trashed him because the work wasn’t very interesting. Now the shoe’s on the other foot, eh? – I really want to read this book,  and at the moment that seems to be superseding any moral qualms about what the author’s  posthumous wishes might have been. An odd thing to say, maybe, given that Wallace’s focus on trying to be truly moral is one of the great great things I love about his work, but there you have it. It’s all about the writing in the end, and for me his is good enough that I can’t help wanting to look.  I suppose that’s how Max Brod felt when he published The Trial and The Castle even though Kafka told him to burn the manuscripts after his ( K’s) death.  Hey Franz – you could have burned them yourself if they were that bad. Actually my favorite case at the moment is that of Ralph Ellison, who struggled something like 40 years to finish a second novel after the huge success of Invisible Man in 1952, but left only an unfinished manuscript at the time of his death in 1994.  An edited version was published in 1999 as Juneteenth and pretty much bombed. Now Random House is trying again, publishing just this spring the entire manuscript, annotated but basically unedited, under the title Three Days Before the Shooting…we’ll see. Anyway, more on The Pale King once I get into it.

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