Seriously, Though: Who Found The Pale King?

Everyone loves a good literary discovery myth (think Emily Dickinson’s dresser), but the accompanying myth for David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King has been surprisingly hard to nail down. Lev Grossman’s review of the book for Time, out today, begins with his version.

Two months after the writer David Foster Wallace killed himself, his agent [Bonnie Nadell], accompanied by his widow, went into his garage office to look through his papers. It was Thanksgiving weekend, 2008, and the weather was cold and gray in Claremont, Calif. On Wallace’s desk they found a neat stack of around 200 pages containing several chapters of a novel called The Pale King.

This story was most likely relayed via Wallace’s editor Michael Pietsch, who’s quoted throughout the review. The only problem is that it’s fairly different from D.T. Max’s memorable version at the very end of his New Yorker profile, published not long after Wallace’s death.

[Wallace’s widow Karen] Green returned home at nine-thirty, and found her husband. In the garage, bathed in light from his many lamps, sat a pile of nearly two hundred pages. He had made some changes in the months since he considered sending them to Little, Brown. The story of “David Wallace” was now first. In his final hours, he had tidied up the manuscript so that his wife could find it.

There may have been some editorial smoothing here, but it makes it sound like Ms. Green, alone, found the manuscript directly after finding Wallace himself, with his blessing to publish it. Further complicating matters is a BBC radio documentary (now offline, unfortunately) in which Ms. Nadell recounts digging through Wallace’s papers and discovering the manuscript amidst the clutter. Again, these discrepancies can all probably be attributed to editing, but if you’ve been playing the home game, things are becoming muddled.

Is this pedantic? It probably is. But given all the second-guessing concerning Wallace’s wishes for the book, it’s at least worth noting. The Pale King: out from Little, Brown on Tax Day because it’s about taxes. Seriously, Though: Who Found The Pale King?