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April 08, 2011

Assembling David Foster Wallace's THE PALE KING

In search of David Foster Wallace's Pale King | Books | The Guardian
. . . At the time of David's death in September 2008, I had not seen a word of this novel except for a couple of stories he had published in magazines, stories with no apparent connection to accountancy or taxation. In November, Bonnie joined Karen Green, David's widow, to go through his office, a garage with one small window at their home in Claremont, California. On the desk Bonnie found a neat stack of manuscript, totalling nearly 250 pages. On the label of a disk containing those chapters he had written "For LB advance?" Bonnie had talked with David about pulling together a few chapters of his novel to send to Little, Brown in order to commence negotiations for a new contract and advance against royalties. Here was that partial manuscript, unsent. Exploring David's office, Bonnie and Karen found hundreds and hundreds of pages of his novel in progress, given the title The Pale King. Hard drives, folders, three‑ring binders, spiral‑bound notebooks and floppy disks contained printed chapters, sheaves of handwritten pages and notes. I flew to California at their invitation and two days later returned home with a green duffel bag and two sacks heavy with manuscripts. A box full of books that David had used in his research followed by mail. Reading this material in the months after, I found an astonishingly full novel, created with the superabundant originality and humour that were uniquely David's. As I read these chapters I felt unexpected joy, because while inside this world that David had made I felt as if I were in his presence, and was able to forget awhile the awful fact of his death. Some pieces were neatly typed and revised through numerous versions. Others were drafts in David's minuscule handwriting. Some – those chapters from the desk among them – had been recently polished. Others were much older and contained abandoned or superseded plotlines. There were notes and false starts, lists of names, plot ideas, instructions to himself. All were gorgeously alive and charged with observations; reading them was the closest thing to seeing his amazing mind at play upon the world. One leather‑bound workbook was still closed around a green felt marker with which David had recently written. Nowhere in all these pages was there an outline or other indication of what order David intended for these chapters. There were a few broad notes about the novel's trajectory, and draft chapters were often preceded or followed by David's directions to himself about where a character came from or where he or she might be headed. But there was no list of scenes, no designated opening or closing point, nothing that could be called a set of directions or instructions for The Pale King. As I read and reread this mass of material, it nevertheless became clear that David had written deep into the novel, creating a vividly complex place – the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, in 1985 – and a remarkable set of characters doing battle there against the hulking, terrorising demons of ordinary life. Karen and Bonnie asked me to assemble from these pages the best version of The Pale King that I could find. Doing so has been a challenge like none I've ever faced. But having read these draft pages and notes, I wanted those who appreciate David's work to be able to see what he had created – to be allowed to look once more inside that extraordinary mind. Although not by any measure a finished work, The Pale King seemed to me as deep and brave as anything David had written. . . .