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The Pale King

by David Foster Wallace

Other authors: Michael Pietsch (Editor)

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2,060555,413 (3.92)74
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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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
There are parts of this that are hilarious such as the introduction that starts well into the book where the author disclaims the boilerplate legal disclaimer on the back side of the frontispiece the states that any similarity to a real person living or dead is purely coincidental. Or when the narrator explains why he was expelled from college. But overall this is a book that examines the life of being an accountant and a study of boredom. I suppose he was trying to be new and innovative; this book was pieced together from his papers after his suicide. ( )
  JoeHamilton | Jul 21, 2020 |
The Pale King would have been his best work yet had Wallace lived to see it through. As it stands, the book contains some of DFW's best writing in what amounts to a series of linked stories and character studies. In pursuing themes of mindfulness and attention in the face of boredom and the pervasive sadness of the human condition, Wallace crafts heartbreakingly real characters whose back-stories are the best parts of this book. Read this if you've read [b:Infinite Jest|6759|Infinite Jest|David Foster Wallace|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1165604485s/6759.jpg|3271542] and want more. Otherwise read Infinite Jest. [full review] ( )
  markflanagan | Jul 13, 2020 |
The short version of this review is: It's David Foster Wallace. So of course it's pretentious and self-righteous and needlessly dense. But on the other hand, it's David Foster Wallace, so of course it's beautifully written and wonderfully immersive and unlike the mountain of other fiction sitting on my desk.

The longer version is: This book is weird. It's a 500 some odd pages novel about the IRS, where the authors note is about a third of the way through, and there's various points intentionally left unfinished. This was Wallace's final work, as he killed himself before it was finished. Now, Wallace was an absolute abhorrent human who treated people in his life horribly- but his suicide still left this book tragically without his final vision. That being said, its wonderfully edited together in a way that takes tons of notes and side ideas from Wallace's personal home and turns it into a fairly coherent story- even if it's a story that's intentionally messy.

The narrative is irregular and confusing on purpose, as there's lots of characters referenced but never shown, and various perspectives are explored, including the actual author's (yes, it gets very meta). Wallace drowns some of the slower moments with tax code jargon, and while it helps create both authenticity and immersion, it also makes it unbearable to read. And while the footnotes aren't as bad as in Infinite Jest, they're still a pain. However, I spent three weeks trudging through this book anyway, and the ending was... alright. Good enough. The expectations are set high for a book this long and crazy, but given the markedly unfinished nature of this specific piece, I wasn't waiting for a home run.

Overall it's probably what you expect. A bunch of profound writing about boredom and American institutions that gets a little bit lost in a story that struggles to hold up. Some wonderful writing about nonsense topics that comes and goes in quality, and constantly has you asking whether or not you're happy you're reading this book or if it's just a chore.

Don't read it if you're not a fan of Wallace. You'll hate it. If you are a fan of only Infinite Jest, you'll find this is a suitable "spiritual sequel" that has similar skill involved without quite as much significance. The only people that will truly get everything they can out of this would be people who have a profound personal interest in Wallace himself. After all, it's the last thing he was trying to write before he took his own life. In the words of a note left at the back of the book by the author himself-

"David Wallace disappears- becomes creature of the system." ( )
  MaxAndBradley | May 27, 2020 |
I really, REALLY liked this book. But I still wish it had remained unpublished. Given DFW's perfectionism and near perfect writing skill I don't think he would have endorsed the decision. There are exquisite, fun, alarming and ultimately life philosophy altering moments in this book. But if this was the first Wallace book a person picked up they would be confused and wonder what all the fuss was about regarding this so-called amazing writer, one of the best of his time.

I do still recommend it for people who have done some of the hard work DFW tasks his readers to do. It is still pretty fun too, if you're just in it for a wild ride. ( )
  CarolineanneE | Mar 28, 2020 |
Wallace had been mulling the possibilities for a third novel since the mid-1990s, even as he began the stories that would form the heart of Brief Interviews. The setting had come early, possibly even before the publication of Infinite Jest: he knew he wanted to write about the IRS. The agency fit well with Wallace’s Pynchonian appetite for clandestine organizations and hidden conspiracies. And like the tennis academy and recovery house in Infinite Jest, it was a world unto itself, where characters would be in charged apposition to one another. Wallace himself had had numerous small brushes with the agency over the years, usually involving trivial errors on Form 1099s that he or his accountant had to get corrected. These encounters touched off the same anxiety within him as communications from lawyers and fact-checkers. He had an idea as well of the IRS as a secular church, a counterpart to Alcoholics Anonymous in Infinite Jest.14 But, finally, he probably settled on the IRS for the most obvious reason: it was the dullest possible venue he could think of and he had decided to write about boredom.

It's hard to review anything by David Foster Wallace to me, so far. His books are life-changers in a way that they skewer your mind and, at the least, force yourself into questioning your own ways but also those of others. It's a bit like listening to how Bill Hicks started reacting at the end of his life, when he received word that he would die from cancer: everything's tinged with timelessness, written passionately, carefully and with love. It's a very berth that doesn't really have anything to do with throwaway culture (which is funny, considering how much Wallace immersed himself in popular culture, especially TV) but with human emotions and the intellectual.

"The Pale King" was published posthumously. Having said that, the book had to be published. I think even Wallace wanted that, considering how he left the book just before committing suicide. And it's not only the best posthumous book I have ever read, but reading 10-20 pages into it, it was clear to me that the form and content was a clear, bested leap from "Infinite Jest".

Wallace in his final hours had "tidied up [his] manuscript so that his wife could find it. Below it, around it, inside his two computers, on old floppy disks in his drawers were hundreds of other pages—drafts, character sketches, notes to himself, fragments that had evaded his attempt to integrate them into the novel." On her blog, Kathleen Fitzpatrick reported that the Pale King manuscript edited by Michael Pietsch began with "more than 1000 pages ... in 150 unique chapters". The published version is 540 pages and 50 chapters. -- From the Wikipedia article on "The Pale King"

Still, it's extremely good form. And I can't imagine how tough it must have been to edit the book. Pietsch, a long-time editor with Wallace, must have done a terrific job. Wallace's notebooks from writing "The Pale King" are available online, thanks to the Harry Ransom Center, to help the reader see what was there.

In the process of writing the novel he came to call The Pale King, he laid out its central tenet in one of his notebooks: Bliss—a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom. --From D. T. Max's biography on David Foster Wallace, titelled "Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story"

To paraphrase Bill Hicks again: it's a ride.

You get the intimate feel from people inside the IRS, people brought there by a life-long drive towards the bureaucratic, presenting them as humans rather than something out of a Kafka book. You get luck, love, death, life, music, and details that made me cry. The first pages of this book made me want to laud Wallace above and beyond.

And the people. Always the people. While reading the book, I often felt "I wouldn't want to be any of these", but at the same time, I could definitely relate to the mundane and be touched by how Wallace made it feel beautiful. Filing copies and making copies and going through the same routine over and over, while looking at the clock trying to think of ways to make time go faster, or thinking about home, night and the day after, when you will, no doubt, clatter forward in despair, tediousness and silence around you while there are people scattered only an arm's length from you.

Wallace's inclusion of himself as a character who made it into the IRS by chance is better than imagined. The footnotes - oh yes, there are footnotes, and not endnotes - are here as explanations, comments, another world looking in and at the same time anything but pretentious garbage.

Who other than Wallace, in modern times, had/has the ability to write something this complex without making the reading boring and the financial aspects of being an IRS worker utterly uninteresting?

Just read this. Don't give a toss about this review, really. His words excel most I've ever read. This is basically human, touching and moving beyond my feeble attempts at explaining what "The Pale King" is about. ( )
  pivic | Mar 21, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (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
Wallace, David FosterAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Pietsch, MichaelEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed

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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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Penguin Australia

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