David Foster Wallace – The Pale King

Because the author hanged himself at 46, suffered severe depression most of his adult life, was married for 4 years to the artist Karen Green, was best friends with Jonathan Franzen, and had been described as the new voice of American literature, I was curious to read his posthumously published book. Added to that, David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King”was a finalist for this Year’s Pulitzer prize in fiction.

The background to the story of publication reminded me of Toole’s mother with her determination to reveal Confederacy of Dunces to the world – another prize winner. I carefully read the Editor’s 6 page introductory notes; I found Karen Green’s interview; I researched Wallace’s well-received “Infinite Jest.” But none of this prepared me.

Reading the first 2 chapters is like attacking William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” – an intimate yet realistic uncovering of a mind distracted into jumping topics – just as we all do. In this case, Claude Sylvanshine, a GS 13 who works for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is in his emergency row seat on an airplane – thinking. Wallace uses no paragraphing and no dialogue – no help to the reader who must stay focused to keep up with the internal conversation. Unlike Hemingway, he does not use simple sentences, but constructs his thoughts in complex bursts. This is not easy reading.

It is with some irony that I discovered I had “published” this draft by accident – hitting the wrong button on my iPhone. I had planned to read more, include links and pictures, but I could not call it back – no matter my panic in delivering a piece I had not edited. I wonder how Wallace would feel seeing his “work in progress” published.

Celebrating Edith Wharton

When I visited Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts – the Mount – I remember the docent telling how Wharton would stay in bed all day writing, strewing rejected pages on the floor for the maid to clean up, whenever Edith finally emerged from her self-imposed exile. The idea of staying in pajamas all day, having food delivered, and looking out on the lush garden outside her window for inspiration, was appealing to me.

Hearing that Wharton would have celebrated her 150th birthday in January (and I missed the party), I was inspired to revisit the world of Newland Archer and the Countess Olenska – so I am now rereading Wharton’s Pulitzer prize winning novel, “The Age of Innocence” – and finding it so much better now that it is not required reading for a class.

Have you read any of Wharton’s books – just for the fun of it?

Wharton used her native New York to frame her stories, but Dierdre Donahue in her column for USA Today lists two new books inspired by Wharton that base the action outside Gotham – “The Innocents” (based in London) by Francesca Segal and “Gilded Age” (in Cleveland) by Claire Millan.

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