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Books

Beyond the Pale, pt. six (of seven)

(continued from pt. five)

Punch card from the first machine built by IBM in Greenock, Scotland

Pg. 229 is essentially the fulcrum, the crux, the beating heart of the entire book. A description of what life actually is, of what true courage and true heroism is, the countless misconceptions and grand misinformations that help shape us into hazy and fuzzy-limited characters; that making a choice is choice-limiting and confining, but also, in a very important sense, liberating; that tedium is the true essence, the true heart of every life.

 ―

Now, take a look inside the room:

§8 describes the childhood of one of the Peoria REC’s examiners, Toni Ware, who has some issues of her own, as is revealed near the end of this collection of drafts. Her mother suffered from mental illness, maybe catatonic schizophrenia, and they traveled from trailer park to trailer park, her mother shacking up with a succession of trailer trash types who of course took advantage of Toni Ware’s prepubescent vulnerability, her still unrealized sexuality. What is interesting about this chapter is that it showcases Wallace’s linguistic chameleonism. Here he emulates, in a more or less perfect fashion, Cormac McCarthy’s comma-less and incandescent prose. You should read it, it is uncanny, he channels McCarthy, like an early 20th cen. psychic. This chapter, all of it, could be an alternative vision of hell. Not the Christian version, replete with forked tails and cauldrons of boiling oil, but the earthly, extant ones, another one in the list of hells that people live through in the everyday. With some effort, we could triangulate the coordinates of the various appearances. Find one for example in the dictionary, an addendum scrawled on the page after the last definition (“hell-box”) and before its examples, or in houses that from the outside look no different from any other. The hells that hide beneath the diversionary caul of advertisements, sub-primetime ads for slimming creams, pointless exercise machines and crappy kitchen appliances; celebrity TV, the Oprah smile, the Letterman squint, the new talent show, the new reality show, it’s all about reality that has nothing to do with the real; great island condos, white as pebbles and towersome, immovable on the edge of a shallow azure sea; the long-limbed models who present an alternative vision of paradise you will never reach; and maybe not despite, but because of them.

Given the amount of research that he did for each book, we are inclined to believe every last bit of detail he put into the Pale King. So I initially believed that the IRS used to have Fornix punch card machines, for example, even though the name seemed suspect. Only there are no Fornix machines and probably never were. Search for Fornix and you get the vaginal fornix and the fornix of the brain. The same goes for the towns that are home to the other REC’s, like LaJunta and Rotting Flesh. These could be just stand-ins, first draft placeholders he didn’t get to change, but there is one chilling possibility. I am imagining an interview that will never be conducted, probably for a German cable channel. The host asks: “But what about the town names? What do they signify?”And Wallace blinks, looks away and smiles his shy smile. This is what he’s been waiting for. With his steady, low voice, a voice of a person who would rather fade in the background rather than stand there under the spotlights with his sweat blocked by specialized make-up: “Oh no, these aren’t fake names. These are real towns that existed up to 1986. You can look them up in Country Inns and Backroads. They did exist, but are now nothing more than ghost towns swallowed by the desert”.

And I can’t get over the fact that he inserted an esoteric nod of the head to freaky porn-hounds, on pg. 128, where he casually mentions a Mr. Seymour Booty, one of the names used in the IRS offices to throw suspect taxpayers off balance. But there exists in the real world, or at least in the porn world which isn’t all that real, a Seymore Butts, and we all know that “booty” is pornspeak for “butt” and Seymour is the normalized version of the punny Seymore. So, what I mean to ask, pop-quiz-like, is do you know of Seymore Butts (a.k.a., if you can believe it, Calico Cock, due to his psoriatic penis, a delightfully Wallacian nickname, if you ask me) and the Tushy Girls (particularly Alisha Klass, getting pounded in the ass by the huge cock of a tattooed and goateed Californian, first by a pool and then on a white couch, as young and beautiful as she will never be again, because nothing is ever pure or happy), because it is quite obvious that Wallace did. Or not. This could be just another of those coincidences.

(the seventh part is scheduled to appear on Saturday, 1 October 2011)

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  1. Pingback: Beyond the Pale, pt. seven (of seven) « Seven Steps Back - October 1, 2011

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