Graham, January 01, 2012
Any unfinished novel is difficult to evaluate, but Wallace's much remarked-on wit and voice, and his much less remarked-on laser insight into human nature and how we become who we become, help him create an engaging, occasionally moving book. It's difficult to resist mapping Wallace's own well-publicized chaos onto the happenings in the Illinois IRS office where the book takes place, but to me, Pale King is his most optimistic story; where Infinite Jest plunges us headlong towards apocalypse and essays like A Supposedly Funny Thing I'll Never Do Again systematically make the case for despair, Pale King finds deep heroism in its masters of the quotidian. Wallace's final response to his great subject, the atomization of contemporary American society, is to stop diagnosing and start healing, offering these stories of unglamorous dedication to a selfless task as a corrective to a nation obsessed with instant gratification and Kardashian fame. Being Wallace, Pale King is cerebral carbonation and funny as hell. Some backlash has begun against Wallace's posthumous canonic coronation, but do yourself a favor and enjoy the last gesture from one of the most wise, caring and empathetic writers to ever pick up a pen.