What Do The Pale King’s Four New Scenes Add?

Gabe Habash -- March 28th, 2012

On April 10th, The Pale King will come out in paperback with four previously unpublished scenes. The details: three scenes of three pages each, and one scene that runs 14 pages. The book states that they’re “four of the most complete pieces” that don’t fit with the rest of the novel, whether because of inconsistencies or because there just wasn’t a logical place to fit them in.

The question of whether these scenes are worth reading seems beside the point, because you probably already know if 23 pages of unfinished, vagrant David Foster Wallace writing is something you’ll be interested in reading. The scenes, like the rest of The Pale King, primarily function as texts to be examined and parsed. But Wallace fans (and this goes double for the Wallace fans who’ve already read through The Pale King) will enjoy contemplating their spot in the book’s grand design. And, yes, to answer your question: there are moments of wonderful Wallace prose.

A brief overview of the four scenes is provided below.

Scene #1: Reminiscent of “A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life,” this scene offers a glimpse of seeing ourselves clearly, a moment of self-awareness and our true place in the world.

Best Line: “I have, every so often, come briefly awake. I awoke nearly in mid-stride once on 5 October 1975, my junior year at PCB.”

Scene #2: The antithesis of the previous scene, narrated by a thoughtless, self-described “thug” (“I don’t reflect much: reflection is paralyzing”).

Best Line: “You do not think. You do not stand there trying to reach an accommodation with the fact that you just got hit. You hit back. Or first. Between the impulse and the action are only spinal nerves and fast-twisted fasciae. It is not a life of the mind.”

Scene #3: The most immediately rewarding and complete of the four. A brief overview of Charles Lehrl’s childhood upbringing in Decatur, related by Lehrl to his friend Claude Sylvanshine. The friendship between Lehrl and Sylvanshine is also covered.

Best Line: “…Lehrl, his brother, and his tiny sister negotiating the ditches and fences and crossing Self-Storage Parkway to climb a Big Boy restaurant’s billboard’s support and peer through the hole that was the Big Boy icon’s (a big smiling boy in a fast food cup bearing a tray’s) left incisor to watch the rendering plant’s lone cow or swine, standing chained in the crabgrass…”

Scene #4: A scene set in the lunchroom revolving around a project in which employee Hovatter will take a year to watch every single moment of cable television broadcast in the month of May 1986. The bulk of the scene is roughly 10 pages of fastidious, hyper-attentive dialogue spoken by other characters trying to account for all of the specifics and potential pitfalls of the plan.

Best Line: “Singh would be falling asleep in the back seat and his parents’ conversation would get rushed and roary and disconnected in his ears and this was one way he knew he was starting to really fall asleep instead of lying in the back seat and listening to his parents talk as his father drove.”

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