David Foster Wallace's
Chapter 9, "Author's Foreword"
Editor's Note by Michael Pietsch
In 2006, ten years after the publication of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, Little, Brown made plans to release an anniversary edition of that glorious novel. Celebrations were set up at bookstores in New York and Los Angeles, but as the events neared, David demurred about attending. I telephoned to try to persuade him. "You know I'll come if you insist," he said. "But please don't. I'm deep into something long, and it's hard for me to get back into it when I'm pulled away."
"Something long" and "a long thing" were the terms David used to talk about the novel he'd been writing in the years since Infinite Jest. He published many books in those years—story collections in 1999 and 2004 and gatherings of essays in 1997 and 2005. But the question of a new novel loomed, and David was uncomfortable speaking about it. Once when I pressed him, he described working on the new novel as like wrestling sheets of balsa wood in a high wind. From his literary agent, Bonnie Nadell, I heard occasional reports: David was taking accounting classes as research for the novel. It was set at an IRS tax return processing center. I had had the enormous honor of working with David as his editor on Infinite Jest, and had seen the worlds he'd conjured out of a tennis academy and a rehab center. If anyone could make taxes interesting, I figured, it was him.
At the time of David's death, in September 2008, I had not seen a word of this novel except for a couple stories he had published in magazines, stories with no apparent connection to accountancy or taxation. In November, Bonnie Nadell joined Karen Green, David's widow, to go through his office, a garage with one small window at their home in Claremont, California. Exploring it, Bonnie and Karen found hundreds and hundreds of pages of his novel in progress, designated with the title "The Pale King." Hard drives, file folders, three ring binders, spiral bound notebooks, and floppy disks contained printed chapters, sheaves of handwritten pages, notes, and more. I flew to California at their invitation and two days later returned home with a green duffel bag and two Trader Joe's sacks heavy with manuscripts. A box full of books that David had used in his research followed by mail.
Reading this material in the months after returning, I found an astonishingly full novel, created with the superabundant originality and humor that were uniquely David's. As I read these chapters I felt unexpected joy, because while inside this world that David had made I felt as if I were in his presence, and was able to forget awhile the awful fact of his death. Some pieces were neatly typed and revised through numerous versions. Others were drafts in David's minuscule handwriting. Some had been recently polished. Others were much older and contained abandoned or superseded plotlines. There were notes and false starts, lists of names, plot ideas, instructions to himself. All these materials were gorgeously alive and charged with observations; reading them was the closest thing to seeing his amazing mind at play upon the world. One leather bound workbook was still closed around a green felt marker with which David had recently written.
Here is a small selection of some of those pages, a series of drafts of the "Author's Foreword." They show the evolution of the passage that would eventually become chapter nine in The Pale King: the birth of the idea to make himself a character writing a fake memoir, early handwritten drafts and attempts to expand that idea, and subsequent revisions to polish it once he felt he had written a worthy version. These pages and the entire mass of material from David's office will ultimately be made available to the public at The University of Texas's Harry Ransom Center.
Executive Vice President and Publisher of Little, Brown and Company