15. Wiggle Room
David Foster Wallace
This is day Fifteen of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.
The massive, classic novel, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace has been on my to-read list for a long time…, along with 2666 by Roberto Bolaño and Underworld by Don DeLillo. But Jest is over a thousand pages, Underworld a tad over eight hundred and nine hundred for 2666. To tackle a tome of this magnitude takes a commitment of time I’m not sure I have (There aren’t that many years left) when so much shorter stuff is out there. Then again, I’ll always treasure Gravity’s Rainbow and Moby Dick and the other Big Long Books I’ve soldiered through. Who knows?
Today, submitted for your approval, is a short work by David Foster Wallace from the New Yorker. It’s a harrowing look at the soul-destroying numbness of working in a mindless modern cubical-cluttered workplace. Specifically, a midwestern backwater IRS office.
If it seems incomplete, it’s because it is. It is a snippet of Wallace’s last, unfinished novel, The Pale King.
David Foster Wallace committed suicide leaving The Pale King as a disorganized pile of paper and computer files. His friend and editor Michael Pietsch assembled the novel from that and it was published in 2011.
Before it came out, several selections were printed. The New Yorker also published a piece that’s still available online, Good People. It’s a completely different type of story (or snippet) even though it features the same character, Lane Dean, as today’s Wiggle Room.
Also, in the same issue, is a long article on Wallace, The Unfinished… it’s worth a read.
He felt in a position to say he knew now that hell had nothing to do with fires or frozen troops. Lock a fellow in a windowless room to perform rote tasks just tricky enough to make him have to think, but still rote, tasks involving numbers that connect to nothing he’ll ever see or care about, a stack of tasks that never goes down, and nail a clock to the wall where he can see it, and just leave the man there to his mind’s own devices. Tell him to pucker his butt and think beach when he starts to get antsy-and that would be just the word they’d use, antsy, like his mother. Let him find out in time’s fullness what a joke the word was, how it didn’t come anyplace close. He’d already dusted the desk with his cuff, moved his infant son’s photo in its rattly little frame where the front glass slid a bit if you shook it. He’d already tried switching the green rubber over and doing the adding machine with his left hand, pretending he’d had a stroke and was bravely soldiering on. The rubber made the pinkie’s tip all damp and pale beneath it.
—-from Wiggle Room, by David Foster Wallace