Can a book have a personality? If so, this book is Bi-Polar. There are sections so well executed that I felt like I was reading for the first time, experiencing another’s thoughts as my own. His descriptions of the Midwest, and the culture of the early 70’s are terrific. There are sections of this book that are mind numbing. Boring does not begin to describe the quagmire of nothingness that doesn’t connect, doesn’t inform and instead allows you to experience DFW’s descriptive state where you cannot focus or move ahead because you are stuck.
I have read that David Foster Wallace suffered from severe depression most of his life and I have read that ‘The Pale King’ is about boredom so I wonder, what was boredom to DFW? I experience boredom as temporary disconnect where nothing interests me. I wonder though, if I were extremely talented, obviously constantly at odds with my surroundings, if I were also suffering from depression so severe that I was treated with Electric Shock Therapy more than once and on psycho tropic drugs, what would boredom be to me and I think the answer is this. Boredom would be a state of hopeless inertia and a state that I would fear like a claustrophobic fears a closet. This said, I wonder if writing this book was DFW’s way of dealing with his depression and he decided to give us a taste of how it feels to feel so good one day and dead the next day . I read he never wrote about his depression, maybe he was trying to work it out in this book with its multiple plot lines and large cast of characters.
Since the book is not finished, everyone draws different conclusions as to its meaning, purpose and structure. I have a few thoughts on this.
1) The Forward appears well into the book and both negates and supports the book as actually, more or less a memoir of DFW’s experiences but not necessarily as they happened. I think ‘The Pale King” is both fiction and memoir with a lot weird pseudo fantastical stuff thrown in to keep everyone guessing.
2) The footnotes. I have no opinion here because I quit reading them early on. They appeared to contain information that I didn’t need and sometimes were not associated with the passage I was reading. I think DFW put them there for his own amusement, kind of like background music.
3) The structure as envisioned by the editor. This book is so episodic that you could probably read any chapter in any order and still come away with enough thought bullets to keep you occupied for quite some time.
As far as the story told, the best passages are unsurpassed by anything I have ever read and I have been reading for a long, long time. If it was DFW’s intent to pull me out of myself and send me on a difficult but rewarding journey, he succeeded. I am glad I read this book.