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Time says 'The Pale King' represents David Foster Wallace's 'finest work'

March 31, 2011 |  7:57 am

Thepaleking_dfw David Foster Wallace's "The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel," a story that involves a number of IRS staffers, is coming to bookstores, appropriately, on April 15.

When Wallace, who wrote the seminal novel "Infinite Jest," committed suicide in 2008, he left behind a draft manuscript and fragments; they were assembled by his longtime editor, Michael Pietsch, into "The Pale King."

Time magazine -- which also scored a weeks-ahead preview of Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom," helping to put that book at the center of the literary conversation -- has a preview of "The Pale King."

If The Pale King isn't a finished work, it is, at the very least, a remarkable document, by no means a stunt or an attempt to cash in on Wallace's posthumous fame. Despite its shattered state and its unpromising subject matter, or possibly because of them, The Pale King represents Wallace's finest work as a novelist....

It will be — it already has been — argued that The Pale King shouldn't have been published at all. Wallace was a perfectionist, and the prospect of his work appearing in print in a less-than-finished state would certainly not have pleased him. But the presumed desires of the author are not the only things to be weighed in the decision to publish a posthumous work. All of Kafka's novels were unpublished when he died, and he left instructions that they should be burned. They were also unfinished; the order of the chapters in The Trial is still just guesswork. But I for one would not be prepared to give The Trial back. I wouldn't give The Pale King back either.

Time's book critic Lev Grossman embraces the book more than Jonathan Segura did in his less-glowing review in Publishers Weekly.

The much-anticipated book is due on shelves tax day, April 15. But it has been shipped without a hold, which means that some eager booksellers -- including, I believe, staff at one major L.A. independent bookstore -- may be able to share copies once the boxes in the back are opened.


David Foster Wallace's "The Pale King" reviewed at Publishers Weekly

New David Foster Wallace story in the March 7 New Yorker

Digging into the David Foster Wallace archive

-- Carolyn Kellogg