Tensions are running high on campus as sophomore Tom Sternberg forcibly and repeatedly reveals significant plot details from David Foster Wallace’s forthcoming posthumous novel, The Pale King.
The book, assembled from drafts Wallace worked on from 2000 until his death in 2008, is highly anticipated, and Sternberg has been roundly criticized for the “spoilers” he has been divulging at area release parties — events with games, face painting, pageantry, and elaborate costumes related to the characters of Wallace’s other works.
“Tom just showed up and started shouting,” said Matt Fent ’12. “Even though I tried to cover my ears, I still heard a lot of it. It sort of ruins the magic.” Fent, who wore only a bathing suit, said that his costume doubled as the unnamed protagonist of “Forever Overhead,” which he called an “experiment in second-person narration and use of extreme detail,” and that of the unnamed protagonist of “Death Is Not The End,” which he interprets as “an opaque commentary on the literary author as commodity.”
Wallace’s avid fandom has been widely expressed in many media, including websites, conventions, fan art, and fan fiction. On forums, interested readers speculate at length about plot clues and future character developments, posing questions such as, “Who dies? Who falls in love? Who is able to meaningfully express urgent moral truths in spite of the paralyzing self-awareness and irony that have inured American audiences (not to mention the writers themselves) to anything close to an expression of sentimentality?”
Many Wesleyan students now carry about costume broomsticks left over from releases of Harry Potter books and movies, both in reference to Wallace’s “maximalist metafictional romp” The Broom of the System, and as a means of fending off Sternberg. These efforts have been largely fruitless, however, as Sternberg arrives at release parties dressed as Joelle “Madame Psychosis” Van Dyne, a hideously disfigured experimental radio host—from Wallace’s 1079-page novel Infinite Jest—who wears a face-obscuring black veil.
It is not clear where Sternberg gained his information, but in his mission to reveal the ending of the novel (allegedly provoked by similar and sequential high school spoilings of The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, and Bull Durham), he is very persistent and cunning. Sarah Warde ’14 said that Sternberg surprised her as she was standing in the Pastabilities line at Usdan, where she dropped her carbonara in shock.
“I feel like I’ll still be able to enjoy the book,” Warde said, “but it’s never the same when you already know how it’s going to end. Like in Everything and More, Wallace’s book-length explanation of the history of the mathematical concept of infinity, when... I mean, I won’t say, in case you haven’t read it yet, but it’s dramatic.”
To avoid Sternberg’s plot-revealing comments, many frustrated students say they plan to cover their ears and repeat, “This is water, this is water,” until they have acquired and finished the book.
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