The always insightful Garth Risk Hallberg's take on The Pale King is the Weekend Read around Chez TEV.
Under the hood, though, what’s remarkable about The Pale King is its congruity with Wallace’s earlier ambitions. Recent generations of Americans have, with a few notable exceptions, been allergic to what used to be called “the novel of ideas.” Information we love, and the more the better. Memes? By all means. But inquiries into ontology and ethics and epistemology we’ve mostly ceded to the science-fiction, self-help, and Malcolm Gladwell sections of the bookstore. A philosophy-grad-school dropout, Wallace meant to reclaim them. Infinite Jest discovered in its unlikely milieu of child prodigies and recovering addicts less a source of status details than a window onto (in Wallace’s words) “what it is to be a fucking human being.” And The Pale King treats its central subject—boredom itself—not as a texture (as in Fernando Pessoa), or a symptom (as in Thomas Mann), or an attitude (as in Bret Easton Ellis), but as the leading edge of truths we’re desperate to avoid. It is the mirror beneath entertainment’s smiley mask, and The Pale King aims to do for it what Moby-Dick did for the whale.
In the file of TEV Posts I've Never Written But Keep Thinking About is the one about my failure to fully appreciate Wallace (a failure I continue to view as mine, not his). I remember thinking if anyone could make me see the error of my ways it would be Wyatt Mason, but I found his NYRB essay a spectacular disappointment, his argument essentially "If you don't like him, you don't understand him." Hallberg comes the closest to inspiring me to try yet again. I am nothing if not persistent.