The Pale King

The Pale King

The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Foster Wallace.

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 fear and as original as anything Wallace ever undertook.

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Despite this reflexive skepticism, I couldn't help feeling like this book was somehow written for me while reading it. Of course, I never really lost sight of the breadcrumb trail of rational explanations for why I felt this way, but as I moved on through the book it just kept raising up remarkable coincidences, one after the other, in its numerous references to IL's Cook and Lake County area locales, drug (ab)use and shifting attitudes towards said drug (ab)use, working at a psychiatric facility, shifting attitudes towards intellectual pursuits, and ongoing transformations within big ol' overarching worldviews, and various other details. So not only was I able to get the deeper, personal Identification with Wallace's words that I've come to expect and that he's generously supplied me with throughout the years, but so much of it was literally mentioning specific places I've been to and/or driven through, exploring the nature of the specific drugs I was taking at the time, and the ins and outs of the specific kind of job I'd been working at for the last year plus and was sitting at while I read. To quickly rehash what most people even peripherally familiar with this book might already know: it's unfinished and was assembled by Wallace's longtime editor, Michael Pietsche, who whittled down the 1000+ pages, stacked neatly on DFW's desk at the time of his suicide, down to a about half that size. Much like Infinite Jest, the more I think about this book the more overwhelmingly detailed and lengthy the review brewing in my head becomes. Looking at the tiny scrawl of my notes isn't helping to preemptively trim this down, neither is thinking about all of the broad, associative ways in which to connect the details of this book and my experience with it to Wallace, my life, and Life generally. In the time leading up to the publication of The Pale King the word on the street was that this book was about boredom and about the IRS.1 Despite the way this sounds, big DFW fans were still drooling with anticipation, knowing full well that Wallace has a well-documented knack for making the mundane magical. ____________________________________________ As I was thinking about writing this review it occurred to me that The Pale King is a kind of response to the previous "long thing" (a term DFW used at various times to describe all three of his extended works, i.e. novels). Infinite Jest details the cultural-psychological problems of modern, first world life (e.g. pathological distraction through trivial entertainment and advertising, inter-/intra-personal disconnection, depression, addictive thought and behavior, et al.) and in a way The Pale King is an attempt to offer solutions. "The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day." The persistent thematic concern with thinking carefully and compassionately is spread throughout these unfinished pages. In a big way this book just has to be read to really be felt and understood, but I'll do my best to set up road signs pointing in the general direction of the book's powerful content. Wallace's somewhat self-depreciating use of the term "long thing" to describe his novels is really pretty apt when it comes to The Pale King, moreso than with his first two novels. This fact of the matter is not a problem for me in the least, because when I read DFW I'm not in need of the suspension of disbelief that people seem to yearn for a lot of the time. I read this section a total of three times before moving on significantly through the rest of the book. News flash: We're going to die.' 'Why do you think people buy health insurance?' 'Let him finish.' 'Now this is depressing instead of just boring.' This is the most directly intellectually stimulating section of the book and keeps the ledger balanced with neither humor or seriousness toppling the scales, while hearty servings of both are piled high. I'll just say that this section is amazingly fun and sad and wise, and is the one with the most references to my neck of the woods, and has a great bit about being stoned and watching As The World Turns, and about taking prescription amphetamines being the birth of meta-awareness, and about what it means to grow up, and about the highs and lows of the parent/child relationship, and about shifting one's way in the world from apathetic nihilism to carefully attentive compassion. The first interruption, which begins with the words "Author here" is 9, entitled "Author's Foreword" which goes on to claim that "The Pale King is, in point of fact, more like a memoir than any kind of made-up story" and involves a whole thing about the legal disclaimer placed in the copywrite, et al. section of nearly all novels about 'The characters and events in this book are fictitious.' A few pages later the point is made blunty again that "The Pale King is basically a non-fiction memoir, with additional elements of reconstructive journalism, organizational psychology, elementary civics and tax theory, & c." Well, whatever it really is, it's emotionally jarring and deeper than the Nile. 46 is a lengthy conversation between two IRS workers at a bar, which eerily alludes to a character's superhuman ability to focus attention (which is obliquely mentioned elsewhere as something that powers-that-be might be interested in getting their hands onreminiscent of a certain sought after video cartridge in another book) and involves a really moving and disturbing account of mental health treatment and marital disarray. But nestled within this exercise of banal description is a gem of a phrase "Every love story is a ghost story." This act of watching boredom transform into beauty is a powerful small scale version of (one of) the big thematic idea(s) in The Pale King: that finding things of lasting beauty and meaning isn't always easy. There are big, important ideas anchoring this thing, and the details are so rich and amusing and transcendently pleasurable to grapple with that it's the kind of book that can be re-read and re-re-read with exponential gains.

IF YOU COULD SPEND LINGUISTIC VIRTUOSITY DAVID FOSTER WALLACE COULD HAVE WRITTEN OFF THE THIRD WORLD DEBT BURDEN ALL BY HISSELF I'm getting the very strong impression that DFW was a writer of immense gifts and brains who never really found his thing, his field, whatever you call it, so he ended up writing about any thing he happened to trip over (the non fiction) and then two giant anti-novels - this one's acknowledged "subject" is dull jobs which is a kind of admission of defeat which he then turns into a demonstration of virtuosity - look, I can even write great stuff about boredom. But this can also look like flailing about - this is called a(n unfinished) novel by default, because it's not anything else particularly; but it's actually a collection of disconnected DFW writings, some of which are about the IRS and some not. (In this poem by John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a symbol of the Internal Revenue Service.) MY UNFINISHED SYMPATHY Right there on page one, alright, page 3 actually if you're pedantic, and if you're not pedantic then please stay FAR away from this novel, which is a full-throttle celebration of pedantry, amongst many other things, and doesn't have a plot, which I know many readers hanker for, is this : invaginate volunteer beans What a lovely phrase. The shimmying motions resemble those of a car travelling at high speeds along a bad road, making the Buick's static aspect dreamy and freighted with something like romance or death in the gaze of the girls who squat at the copse's risen edge, appearing dyadic and eyes half again as wideand solemn, watching for the sometime passage of a limb's pale shape past a window (once a bare foot flat against it and itself atremble), moving incrementally forward and down each night in the week before true spring, soundlessly daring one anotherto go get up close to the heaving car and see in, which the only one who finally does sothen sees naught but her own wide eyes reflected as from inside the glass comes a cry she knows too well, which wakes her again each time across the trailer's cardboard wall. They set you behind the eyes of a multiplicity of characters, who usually aren't like ourselves at all except in a you are me and we are all together kind of way, and The Pale King is no exception, it is dragging in the subject of stultifyingly tedious deskwork for our edification, which actually means, since also, there is nothing you could mistake for a plot even if you have really poor eyesight and the characters fade in and out randomly, that The Pale King is more like our own lives than a lot of other novels where you get things actually happening and outcomes and motivations made clear and exciting events like kissing and policemen and all that. We will always need novels because we will always need to compare realities, yours with mine and theirs, and because we need to counteract our own technologically-induced solipsism, which you might say is an odd thing to say, since non-readers think of readers as somewhat on the introverted-solipsistic side, but you are not alone when reading, you are the opposite, you're right inside someone else's thought, an intimate relationship you hardly get anywhere else. The whole thing's almost Phillygrade." I WILL BE FRANK, YOU DESERVE NO LESS If you take the 25% of this novel which isn't like that, isn't all about the hapless wigglers, is about, instead, the bizarre story of the boy who wished to press his lips to every part of his own body (he begins this task by giving himself a spinal injury), or chapter 8 (early life of Toni Ware), all this other non-IRS stuff, what you have there is the beginning of one of the all time great American novels. But that is not the novel DFW wanted to write. A BEAUTIFUL BIRD WITH A BROKEN WING FLAPPING ABOUT If I didn't know that DFW intended his novel to be "a series of set-ups for things to happen but nothing ever happens" (DFW quoted by the editor) then I'd be describing the whole thing as like watching a big beautiful bird with a broken wing making numerous painful attempts to get airborne but always crashing back and trying again. Just when you think the novel has found the take-off point, it stops and reboots. It's possible he WAS going to make such points as that government bureaucracy is actually a bastion against chaos and not the enemy it is knee-jerkily scapegoated as; that there was a battle for the soul of the IRS going on in the 1980s; and that this battle was joined by IRS wigglers who had curious and very mild super-powers (two such people are mentioned); or that Almost anything that you pay close, direct attention to becomes interesting. And surely we are getting close to some kind of declaration of intent in the following great quote from a substitute lecturer : I wish to inform you that the accounting profession to which you aspire is, in fact, heroic...gentlemen: here is a truth : enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is...No one to applaud, to admire.

The Pale King doesn't need a sympathy vote; the book soars on its own merits. The Pale King revolves around an Internal Revenue Service center in Peoria, Illinois. Wallace doesn't mythologize as much as he obsessively itemizes office hours with endless sentences that mirror the way a train of thought rapid-fires into the next. So were I, for example, to recommend The Pale King to James, I would probably say It's about working in a Peoria IRS Center but it's about boredom and hope and despair and more but I can't explain it well so you're on your own. But now that I've finished The Pale King I've needed time to readjust to normal novels, you know, the kind with plots and main characters and recognizable storylines. David Foster Wallace's The Pale King is so unique and spellbinding that it's beyond imitation.

Es lo único que nos mantiene en contacto con esa alma nacida en Ithaca pero que vivió siempre en el dolor. El rey pálido consta de 50 capítulos, todos ellos con el característico detallismo extremo de Wallace, pletóricos de narrativa pesada y digresiones que exigen al extremo la atención y concentración del lector. Se nota que hay un intento de mostrarnos a nosotros, los lectores el desprendimiento de la infancia, el desapego de lo que fue y nunca más volverá. Cómo nos trasladamos sobre una cinta automática desde un sistema simple a uno más complejo y, por definición, más exhaustivo. Aunque sé que no será así: este libro terminó tan intempestivamente como su autor. David Foster Wallace se ahorcó en el fondo de su casa el 12 de septiembre de 2008, y nunca más volverá a escribir. Yo puedo estar seguro de que cada vez que abrimos una de sus obras, Wallace vuelve a latir.

I have already written a little bit about my reading of some of his work and just happened upon The Pale King in the CDG airport on the way to Berlin. So, seeing a book by DFW jumped out at me and I grabbed it immediately in case it was just a mirage. As opposed to Infinite Jest of which I still havent been able to get past the first 50 pages yet, The Pale King grabbed me immediately. At one point the books author jumps in on page 69 in 9 in an AUTHORs FOREWARD that is doubly or triply ironic. I found this particularly fascinating because as you read each chapter about the various characters, the voice completely changes and it could almost be written by an entirely different person. I laughed out loud in particular in 24 as he describes bureaucratic ineptness in excruciatingly funny detail whether it be the ridiculous traffic problems to get into the employee parking lot of 047 (the IRS building), the lack of sidewalks, the utterly inefficient intake processeach of these reminding me of the infinite times I have thought many of the exact same thoughts sitting in traffic jams, driving through strip malls and parking lots, and having worked for four different companies of which two ginormous IT ones. Sometimes the writing is pure bureaucratic observation of how folks work together and how managers thing. The book has many observations like this, but this one in particular stuck out for me as particularly true. Perhaps the most enigmatic chapter of The Pale King which captures almost all of the elements above (funny, painful, deep, complex in narrative, intimate) was the Drinion / Rand dialog in chapter 46. The dialog is very hard to describe (I erased about four sentences before writing this one) as it moves between the immediate situation of the two individuals talking, the subtext of their conversation, and the attention that each one is giving to the other and the perception of that attention.

Now I'm deleting just about everything I've written up until point, except for the very boring story above about how I came to read the book at the present time. And for me that was probably one of the more interesting things that happened to me during my working week (Sundays not included, that is the one day that is more interesting, but only because of Karen). Is it some attempt for me to get your sympathy ("No, Greg you aren't boring, you're liked, I look forward to reading about the mundane details of your life, please share more."), or to try to be understood, to communicate in some way with some people from my real life and a handful of relative strangers? The story at the start of the review was written earlier in the week, but all of the cutting up of my worked on review, the notes and asides and general self-deprecating that I seemed to need to share in order to get to this point was done at various times during this evening. It stars mostly characters that never appear in any of the other chapters, but there are quite a few chapters with characters that never show up again and which are wonderful creations that were probably going to be like the great one-off characters in certain Infinite Jest sections or else that might have been developed further if the book had actually been finished. I'd also recommend reading the notes for the various chapters, they sort of fill in what the finished novel might have looked like (I was afraid maybe those weren't included in the hardcover version, but they are, phew). Probably even before he died, in the years between the last time I read IJ and 2008 I was on the lookout for DFW-esque authors, someone to help fill in the time I expected to have to wait between any new work. I've thrown the DFW-esque tag on quite a few people, sometimes in reviews and more often in my head while reading someone. For example while reading some of Zadie Smith's essays you could feel the DFW-ness to them, Adam Levin's use of words in certain stories in Hot Pink, the ballsy size and scope of his The Instructions. DFW left a huge mark on the way people could write, what could be said in an essay, how a story could read. When DFW's writing is merely a memory, in between actually reading him and reading others I can see hints of him in others and say (out loud, in reviews or just in my head) this is like DFW and at the moment what I'm reading that reminds me of some part of something I'd read of him that is true, but only sort of. The point of that example is that it isn't even a short chapter that should have worked, it should have been boring and trite, some office drones going out for Happy Hour drinks where two of them have a conversation that isn't on the surface all that interesting and probably shouldn't be a seventy page chapter but it works and it's engrossing and awesome and is just one example of what I love so much about him and how I can't think of anyone else writing who could do something like that and do it so well (Adam Levin in some of his Talmudic side stories of The Instructions might come closest, I'm thinking his Slip Slap / 9/11 back story specifically). Some critics of DFW have pointed out that at times he is just showing off how well he can do different voices, but that to me is one of his great feats, he can move through so many different interior worlds and get the words feeling like they are part of the damaged thoughts of people. That he can write all these different people and feel like he's writing from their perspective and not necessarily just as a narrator looking over his creations. He was just so fucking good and it because I'm a self-centered asshole I think it sucks that I'll never get to read another new great big work of his.... I've made a fool of myself and excised whatever awfulness I'd been feeling about writing this review and I'm just going to post it as is.

I cried and giggled at parts. There are books I love for their art.

Review Because of the length of my review, I have placed it here: Earlier Fictitious Review Here is an earlier fictitious, more light-hearted review I wrote before finishing the novel: However, I think there is a sense in which he uses the novel to explore and play with our perceptions or, at least, the way we perceive. However, ultimately, the importance of each chapter derives from its subject matter, no matter how long or how short. Click here to read the rest of the review:

Plus, in this novel, Brazil-like comic surrealism (levitation and business babies), light metafictive indulgence (insertion of scalier author minus middle name), and little vignettes of Beethovenian melancholy (the wrenching plight of the sweatiest kid in class). Second longest: the fictional Wallaces entrance into the IRS, taking fifty pages for his bus to dock, spiced with unexpected footnoted fellatio and flash-fire trivia thats almost interesting. A better unfinished novel you will not read .

When someone says something is "universal" I don't always feel like it quite applies to me, or it is some big cliche to describe just what people are used to. Still, I don't think it's a word that I hop to and use to describe stuff like we're all gonna nod and be in the know. Now I say but damn if The Pale King didn't feel something like this "universal" to me over and over again, like my reading it and getting it made it universal. The "I didn't know other people felt this way" and "I thought I was all alone" and feeling too familiar and then pleased at the recognition. It can prickle a bit like talking to someone who calls you on your shit and manages to sound generic psychic hotline lady (I've never called one of those)/cocky therapist (maybe because people are sometimes generic) and still be right enough to make you feel uncomfortable. I appreciated this feeling about The Pale King the most (maybe something else will get me later in future musings but for now this is it). Something I like to do is try to pay attention to mannerisms of other people, especially if they are around family. It got me when a character finds out that other people take lots of "breaks" when studying (here is a youtube clip from the Uk series Spaced of Daisy the writer taking any break she can think of - even cleaning!- to avoid actually working. The kind that can stop in time to not do anything about it and come back in time to keep you from accepting yourself enough to feel good. Meredith's obsession with not being seen how she wanted to be seen and the talking and talking circles around the truth (that old cliche that's true) and doesn't get there because she probably talks about it too much (her husband was right that she wanted to be flattered, I felt). It was fascinating that Drinion didn't have my kind of context when I think I "know" the type and don't want to listen to the "I need to lose weight" spiel again when said person is twenty pounds lighter than I am. I guess I'm like the anti-Shane (other than feeling just as clueless when faced with people talking). I mentally smack myself when I think something like that. Like what if you didn't know what was going to be the important part and you had to process everything. I liked the thinking about it parts too much. TPK got me out of it because I read these instances of people not really doing anything but thinking like it could go anywhere.

My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. He published a thousand-page novel, received the only award you get in the nation for being a genius, wrote essays providing the best feel anywhere of what it means to be alive in the contemporary world, accepted a special chair at California's Pomona College to teach writing, married, published another book and, last month Sept.

  • English

  • Fiction

  • Rating: 3.96
  • Pages: 548
  • Publish Date: April 15th 2011 by Little, Brown & Company
  • Isbn10: 0316074233
  • Isbn13: 9780316074230