The Pale King
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel, (New York: Little Brown & Co.), 2011
David Foster Wallace died before this manuscript was completed and edited. What remained was a massive amount of notes and written pages. It represents an incredible effort of fiction-writing. Who might imagine that one could be entertained by a 550-page novel about the people and process of conducting IRS audits? The concept of the book is itself a monumental challenge. Then, partway through the story, Wallace introduces himself as a character in the story. Only the David Foster Wallace in the book isn't the real David Foster Wallace, who wrote the book, but rather a fictional character created for the book, right down to a fascinating confusion created by his use of the middle name, "Foster." I can't really explain it. You'll have to read the book.
What it seems to me is to be a great course in fiction writing. Because the manuscript is raw and unedited, you get to see Wallace's writing style and how he allows himself to follow tangents and not get too hung up on the overall integrity or theme of the book. Like the sliced up playing card on the cover, the book seems to be a collection of many stories where you can tell that an image is emerging. You even know what the image is. Yet it is obvious that it isn't a single image, but a collection of fragments that seem to hang together.
Other reviews of this book encouraged me to read it. I'm glad I did. I doubt I would have done so without the positive reviews.
You might say it is a strange introduction to David Foster Wallace's writing. On the other hand it may well be his masterpiece, unfinished as it is. I'm not sure that you need a great ending to have a great story. Perhaps the best stories of our lives give us the sense that we might craft the ending in our own imagination.
I know I'll be reading more of Wallace's books in the future.