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The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

The Pale King

by David Foster Wallace

Other authors: Michael Pietsch (Editor)

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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Besides the fact that it made me incredibly sad every time I picked it up, I loved reading DFW's unfinished final novel. It's fragmentary, to be sure, but filled with his trademark wit, labyrinthine sentences, and insights into human behavior. The novel is set in an IRS regional examination center and centers thematically on boredom--that is, the novel asks what it means for humans to perform incredibly tedious tasks (such as tax audits) repeatedly, day after day, for years. I love the sections voiced by "David Foster Wallace" as narrator, and also the long section from the point of view of Chris Fogel, who details his epiphany about the heroic nature of tedious work. Well worth reading. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |

What Happens?

Not much. Some IRS employees of the US government are transferred to an obscure posting where they are to participate in a reform of the income tax system according to theories of a senior director, the eponymous Pale King, who does not appear. It is signalled that the project was not a success, but in fact we don’t see it get underway (maybe it doesn’t). The novel is supposedly unfinished, but no worse for that. Wallace’s cult success “Infinite Jest” could also be seen as unfinished - mostly by its readers, who tend to be carried for hundreds of pages on the wave of its many qualities before being beached on the banks of its infinite silliness. An important theme of the Pale King is boredom, which few writers tackle for obvious reasons. Another is social responsibility and engagement, for which tax and the obligations of taxpayers is a convenient jumping off point.

How is it written?

Many characters have thoughts and occasional conversations and reflect on their past lives. Thoughts are explored in sub-text notes in the manner of an academic work. One of the minor players is Wallace, who briefly worked for IRS, but this is a fictional not Wallace the author himself. Wallace is genius or as near as makes no difference when it comes to expressing the way in which thoughts develop in the mind - not linear but reiterative and working through several thoughts at once. Like many very clever people, he can often be extremely daft and his style is sometimes described as difficult (mostly by the kind of people who ploughed on to the end of Infinite Jest in order to say they had done so). Actually when they are not momentarily falling apart, his books are very readable.

Why should I read it?

If you can stand fiction that is both deeply flawed and brilliant, genuinely daring (as opposed to what publisher’s blurbs call daring) and both seriously funny and funnily serious, then Wallace is likely to claim some part of you one day. In fact you’re not reading a novel so much as a collection of monologues and mini-essays of questionable sincerity. Fiction is supposed to reflect human life - that’s what we get from it - but even if boredom is the most ubiquitous sensation in the developed working world, it is hardly touched upon by novelists. Very few could make boredom as entertaining as Wallace does.

For some reason, Wallace seems to have been claimed by a generation of stoners in his own country (some of whom may have actually read his work). Presumably, because the work is odd and quirky, and Wallace’s suicide can be seen as some kind of Van Gogh statement, the image of the man is a good fit to their viewpoint. In fact, the writing shows something different - even when very playful, it should be obvious he’s engaged in a somewhat desperate search for a way to engage with the world on terms that are honest, rather than looking for a retreat from the society that gets up and takes the kids to school on the way to work. Wallace’s characters are not interested in getting rich, or even in ‘finding themselves’ (whatever that might mean). They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, whether it be a family or an institution or a country, but they want to find a way to do that without the BS. It is a unique world that once you have visited, you are likely to return to. ( )
  martinsowery | Dec 28, 2016 |
The audio version of PK doesn’t have the Footnotes, which in a DFW novel is tantamount to a kind of neutering. But whatever. The real draw is the audio format. DFW may appear to be a “word” kind of guy, because he uses all kinds of three- and four-dollar words. But he’s really more verbal. What’s missing from PK the printed word novel is the gloss that DFW puts on everything he publishes. You get that gloss in the audio book. So, to get the full PK effect, you really need to both read the book and listen to the audio.
( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
July 2014: This is the third time I've read this through. The elevator scene where three main characters discuss the path America's taken in the last 50 years was the real stand out. What I saw clearest this read-through (better at least than before) was the narrative direction Wallace seemed to be heading. The novel is a failure only when compared to the author's vision for it. The writing, of course, is superb. And the novel we have, the novel qua novel, all speculations about auctorial vision aside, is (for my money) a fantastic, eminently readable work. It haunts me.

In Jan 2008, an excerpt from the novel appeared in Harper’s. The excerpt was about an infant with “a fierce and level gaze” who confronts one of the novel's narrators about his (= narrator's) performance at work. I've been waiting eagerly to read the book ever since. Thus, when I finally got my trembling mitts on the thing back in April, I just about couldn't contain myself. Pale King (PK) did not disappoint -- it thrilled. Figuring out how the Harper's excerpt fit into Pale King the novel has been a joy to figure out. As it turns out, PK is a lot more cohesive than one might at first imagine it to be. For instance, who is the Pale King? Mr. Glendenning, he of the mosquito fear ("they are basically just needles with wings"), bluff bearing, and 50s diction? Perhaps. Doctor Merrill Errol Lehrl? Also, perhaps. The US Citizen, fed on bread, entertained by circuses, a solipsistic ruler of his or her own tiny skull-sized kingdom? Yes. Here's why: "Everybody looks pale in the dark, man."

I can't say that I was blown away the first time I read it, but the Pale King has subsequently grown to seriously large dimensions in my mind's readerly warehouse. Open your bay door, give it a shot. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
I'm not entirely sure how he did it, but Wallace created a collage of beautifully banal bureaucracy and the repulsing, strangely intriguing characters that make up the world.

It's definitely a little strange to read about a fictionalized version of my hometown (Peoria, IL). There were bits of fact (Bradley University and Zeller) mixed in with a lot of fiction (Self-Storage Parkway, Carousel Mall, the main industries in town).

PopSugar Reading Challenge 2015 | Task 43: Takes place in your hometown ( )
  Bodagirl | Dec 16, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Unfinished or no, it’s worth reading this long, partly shaped novel just to get at its best moments, and to ponder what Wallace, that excellent writer, would have done with the book had he had time to finish it himself.
added by Shortride | editKirkus Reviews (Apr 1, 2011)
'By turns breathtakingly brilliant and stupefying dull — funny, maddening and elegiac — “The Pale King” will be minutely examined by longtime fans for the reflexive light it sheds on Wallace’s oeuvre and his life.'
added by GYKM | editNew York Times, Machiko Kakutani (Mar 31, 2011)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Foster Wallaceprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pietsch, MichaelEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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We fill pre-existing forms and when we fill them we change them and are changed. - Frank Bidart, Borges and I
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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, nut-grass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in the morning breeze like a mother's soft hand on your cheek.
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Le roi pâle est le plus beau roman de D.F Wallace .
"Profondément triste , profondément philosophique , à couper le souffle..." New York Times
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316074233, Hardcover)

The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Foster Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has.

The Pale King remained unfinished at the time of David Foster Wallace's death, but it is a deeply compelling and satisfying novel, hilarious and fearless and as original as anything Wallace ever undertook. It grapples directly with ultimate questions--questions of life's meaning and of the value of work and society--through characters imagined with the interior force and generosity that were Wallace's unique gifts. Along the way it suggests a new idea of heroism and commands infinite respect for one of the most daring writers of our time.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:32 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The character David Foster Wallace is introduced to the banal world of the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, and the host of strange people who work there, in a novel that was unfinished at the time of the author's death.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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