Critical Notes

Roundup: “The Pale King” and More

By Mark Athitakis

As the publication of David Foster Wallace’s posthumous unfinished novel, The Pale King, was moved ahead of its original tax-day release, plenty of critical takes on the book (and Wallace) have sprung up. Here’s just a sampling:

Six novelists, including Rivka Galchen, Charles Yu, and NBCC award winner Darin Strauss, discussed Wallace’s legacy in the Daily Beast.

Sam Anderson in the New York Times Magazine: “emotionally fraught in a way that a normal novel could never be.”

Laura Miller in Salon: “It was always hard to find the figure in the carpet of his fiction and very easy to enjoy the individual sections, so in a way the reader is let off the hook.”

Jenny Turner in the London Review of Books: “I’ve never read anything I love more than most of Wallace, and yet much of The Pale King I found completely deadly.”

Tom Scocca in Slate: “Reviewing it as a novel is like eating whatever was in a dead person's fridge and calling it a dinner party and comparing it to the dinner parties the deceased gave in the past.”

Lev Grossman in Time: “Wallace's finest work as a novelist.”

John Jeremiah Sullivan in GQ: “It's easy to make the book sound heavy, but it's often very funny, and not politely funny, either.”

Elsewhere, Leland de la Durantaye discusses Wallace’s philosophy in the Boston Review. Wallace’s editor, Michael Pietsch, describes his process of assembling the novel in the Guardian. And Maria Bustillos takes a look at Wallace’s collection of self-help books, now archived at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas—Austin.

Reviews and items from elsewhere:

As part of Parul Sehgal’s ongoing series of interviews with critics for Publishers Weekly, Stephen Burt discusses how he reads poetry, the function of a reviewer, and the critics (past and present) he admires.

Adam Kirsch reviews David Bezmozgis’ The Free World for Tablet.

Michele Filgate interviews Kevin Brockmeier (The Illumination) in Bookslut.

In Rain Taxi, Claude Peck interviews John Ashbery about his translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations.

Rayyan Al-Shawaf reviews Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling in The Brooklyn Rail.

Thomas Mallon (in the New York Times Book Review) and Sarah Courteau (in the Barnes & Noble Review) cover Jim Shepard’s latest story collection, You Think That’s Bad.

Steven G. Kellman reviews The Late American Novel, a collection of essays on the future of writing and publishing, for the Texas Observer.

In the Smart Set, Jessa Crispin reviews a stack of books that presume to teach how to write.

“Solitude and Leadership,” a lecture delivered at West Point by Balakian finalist William Deresiewicz and published in the American Scholar, was recently named a National Magazine Award finalist.

Craig Morgan Teicher recently read his poem “The Virtues of Birds” for PBS NewsHour:


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