The First Sentence of DFW’s Pale King


The Pale King, David Foster Wallace’s last opus, will be officially released on April 15th. In the meantime, we’d like to offer you a peek at the first sentences of the stories published so far, in reverse chronological order. The latest contribution, spotted over on The Millions, is a doozy of a excursus on local vegetation:

“Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-​brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the a.m. heat: shattercane, lamb’s‑quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spinecabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-​print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in a morning breeze like a mother’s soft hand on your cheek.”

Last week, we had the opportunity to read his story, “Backbone,” in The New Yorker. Its first sentence reads:

“Every whole person has ambitions, objectives, initiatives, goals.” (The second sentence: “This one particular boy’s goal was to be able to press his lips to every square inch of his own body.”)

“A New Examiner” was featured in the September 2010 issue of Harper’s:

“Lane Dean, Jr., and two older examiners from a different pod are outside one of the unalarmed door exits between pods, on a hexagram of cement surrounded by maintained grass, watching the sun on the fallow fields just south of the REC.”

From “All That” in the December 14, 2009 issue of The New Yorker:

“Once when I was a little boy I received as a gift a toy cement mixer.”

From “Wiggle Room” in the March 9, 2009 issue of The New Yorker :

“Lane Dean, Jr., with his green rubber pinkie finger, sat at his Tingle table in his chalk’s row in the rotes group’s wiggle room and did two more returns, then another one, then flexed his buttocks and held to a count of ten and imagined a warm pretty beach with mellow surf, as instructed in orientation the previous month.”

“The Compliance Branch” was featured in Harper’s February 2008 issue:

“My audit group’s Group Manager and his wife have an infant I can only describe as fierce.”

From “Good People” in the February 5, 2007 issue of The New Yorker:

“They were up on a picnic table at that park by the lake, by the edge of the lake, with part of a downed tree in the shallows half hidden by the bank.”