Jack Kerouac, David Foster Wallace and Vladimir Nabokov ...
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A Brief History of
By Gilbert Cruz Tuesday, Mar. 10, 2009
Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain
The villains of Lisey's Story, Stephen King's 2006 book about a famous novelist's widow, are dubbed Incunks — crazed academics and collectors who want nothing more than to obtain a dead writer's every last piece of prose and memorabilia — their incunabula. A more learned version of Misery's Annie Wilkes ("I'm your number one fan"), the Incunks speak in part to a writer's fear of having their unfinished, unpolished work stripped from their cold, dead hands (metaphorically, of course) and thrust out into the world.
But fans' curiosity, desire for completeness and appetite for more works from a silent pen are often no match for a writer's desire for privacy — especially when he or she isn't around anymore to argue. Next week will see the release of a previously unpublished story by Mark Twain, almost a century dead; it will be followed by next month's Who is Mark Twain, a collection of 24 formerly unseen essays and short stories. Long-lost novels by Jack Kerouac, David Foster Wallace and Vladimir Nabokov are scheduled to see the light of day in coming years.
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And while it's unfair to compare Bolano to Vladimir Nabokov — the author of Lolita, one of the English language's greatest novels — it is fair to say that a similar response will greet the publication of Nabokov's The Original of Laura, should it come out this November as expected. The problem is that Nabokov never wanted the book to be released in the first place; in his will, he'd instructed his son and executor Dmitri to destroy the manuscript. Dmitiri does not seem to be inclined to obey, setting off a debate over which is more important — an author's last wishes or the pull of literary posterity. Will next year's tentative release of David Foster Wallace's novel The Pale King, for example — just a year and a half after the writer's suicide last September — ensure his spot in the pantheon of great 20th century authors? Or will it simply prove to be exactly what it is — an imperfect, unfinished work? Still, at least Wallace has his editor, and his agent, and his wife to care for his interests.
Who's going to look out for poor old Mark Twain?
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