book reviews | March 30, 2011

Lev Grossman Profiles David Foster Wallace's The Pale King in TIME Magazine

In this week’s Time magazine, leading book critic Lev Grossman looks at the creation of David Foster Wallace’s hugely anticipated posthumous novel, The Pale King. With piercing insight, Grossman’s piece does double duty, serving as both a book review and an in depth look at David Wallace (“his middle name was just for book jackets”) the person: his strange genius, his life leading up to his death, and his uncanny ability to write with equal parts feeling and distance. Grossman recounts the fascinating story of how the book came to be: Shortly after Wallace’s suicide, his agent and his widow stumbled upon several chapters in his garage. Hundreds of pages had been completed, but unnumbered chapters were scattered amongst bins, wire baskets, and drawers. Wallace’s publisher then spent two years assembling the book on spreadsheets (“328 chapters and drafts and fragments” were combined, notes Grossman). When the process was over, what remained was the book.

Arguably the country’s most influential book reviewer, Grossman doesn’t anoint the novel — about a group of IRS agents working in Illinois in 1985 — as a great work of American fiction. He’s honest about its shortcomings: “there are things in The Pale King that don’t work.” What Grossman provides, more than a standard Should-I-or-Shouldn’t-I-Read-it recommendation, is a nuanced look inside the enormously complex world of Wallace. It’s a fantastic look into the the big talent of a lost and unknowable genius as viewed through the lens of his (final?) contribution to the American literary canon.

Read more about keynote speaker Lev Grossman