The Pale King
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The Pale King

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  7,332 ratings  ·  1,157 reviews
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 mom...more
Hardcover, 548 pages
Published April 15th 2011 by Little, Brown & Company (first published 2011)
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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
As most of the people in my corner of a corner of a corner of Goodreads know—just as well as they know about my rabid, undying affection for David Foster Wallace—I tend to use Occam's razor to slash through supernaturalistic irrationality on a pretty regular basis. Despite this reflexive skepticism, I couldn't help feeling like this book was somehow written for me while reading it. Working the graveyard shift at a residential treatment facility for "at-risk youth" (the second such facility I'd c...more
RandomAnthony
The Pale King is a skyscraping achievement. Separating Wallace's backstory from the novel might be impossible, but the edited text, however incomplete, astonishes. The Pale King doesn't need a sympathy vote; the book soars on its own merits.

I should also point out that, after two attempts, I never finished Infinite Jest. A couple years back I recommended IJ to my friend James because he plays tennis and I remembered something in that doorstop about a tennis camp. James is still mad. So I didn't...more
Greg
What renders a truth meaningful, worthwhile, & c. is its relevance, which in turn requires extraordinary discernment and sensitivity to context, questions of value, and overall point-otherwise we might as well all just be computers downloading raw data to one another.

In the interest of full disclosure as a 'novel' this work is not five-stars. As a collection of chapters, stories, asides and footnotes it is quite close to being five stars.

I have no idea how to review this.

I'm more than a li...more
Ian Paganus
Original review: May 10, 2011


100 Words in Search of a Precis (For Those of Us Who Prefer the Short Form of Stimulation)

DFW is calling on us to become Heroes or Pale Kings.

There is something Proustian at work in “The Pale King”.

DFW isn’t so much in search of lost time or even perceptions; he is in search of a lost ability to “perceive” or to “sense” or to make things “interesting”.

In a time when there is so much boredom, DFW is offering us a way of seeing and engaging with the parts of the wor...more
Mariel
Nov 25, 2011 Mariel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: tea dee dum
Recommended to Mariel by: boardum
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. The big stuff like young love, birth, taking a crap, death. Sure, that's all universal and it happens to everyone (maybe not young love). 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. Yeah, I get that. Now I say but damn if The Pale King didn't feel something like this...more
B0nnie
We fill pre-existing forms and when we 
fill them we change them and are changed.
—Frank Bidart,“Borges and I”

The above epigraph to The Pale King is a pun - but a sincere one.
§ The Forms. (view spoiler)...more
Paul
THE PALE KING

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried — “La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”


(In this poem by John Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a symbol of the Internal Revenue Service.)

*

Well, it's an appropriate day to be reviewing The Pale King. Look at today's news headlines, here in the UK. They couldn't be duller!

Plans announced to end confusion over complex domestic fuel tariffs

EU heads agree on new bank supervision rules

Ministers
...more
Lee
As good as all his other stuff. No less finished-seeming than anything else he ever did. No plot, but thematic balls are always in the air and bouncing around, plus the prose is always so readable -- often easier, more mature, steadier, less trying to impress than his earlier stuff? Only had to look up two or three vocab words. Awarded the fifth star to encourage the writer to one day finish it properly -- for now, this collection of 540+ bound pages of DFW's writing, whether it's an unfinished...more
Kemper
Upon hearing that David Foster Wallace’s unfinished last novel was going to be published, my first thought was, “How do they know it wasn‘t done?” Because it’s not like Infinite Jest was a model of story resolution.

My question was answered in the introduction of The Pale King by editor Michael Pietsch that gives a concise breakdown of what Wallace left behind and how he put it together. He makes it very clear that this is not the book that Wallace was envisioning before his suicide. As Pietsch...more
Szplug
It was a strange experience reading The Pale King when set against that of Infinite Jest: having entered into it with a degree of trepidation—due to a combination of the novel's unfinished status, the advance warning I'd received about Wallace's determined efforts to capture the essence of (workplace) tedium and graft it within the story's very being, and another cyclically harrowed state of mind—it all made for a dispassionate progression. At no time, as before, did I feel completely enrapt in...more
Jimmy
B.I. #? 04-11

'Well, I was going to suppress the urge to do it this way, but it seemed fitting. Not just in that meta-gimmicky way, but like a sort of homage. Because I genuinely do love the man and his writing, which is not the sort of sentiment that I usually feel toward most fiction writers that I admire.'
Q.
'Okay, maybe love isn't the right word. More like a relatable connection. Like listening to that Nine Inch Nails album With Teeth, and thinking about Reznor's substance abuse problem, an...more
Paul
Nov 14, 2011 Paul marked it as assorted-rants-about-stuff  ·  review of another edition
As you know I have a lot of difficulty with DFW. I find him difficult! Also exasperating, brilliant, funny, also thinking he’s funnier than he is, also no doubt a genius writer, all of that, and virtually impossible. A difficult case. So I came across a review of The Pale King in the Sunday Times by Theo Tait which explains the problem with DFW. As the Sunday Times is part of the Evil Murdoch Empire and is no longer free online, I thought I would excerpt the best bits as a service I am happy to...more
MJ Nicholls
Well, wow. What an epic, wondrous book. I felt a breathless clarity, exhaustive elation, and all-over giddiness reading The Pale King—a feeling unsurpassed in the overlong Infinite Jest (which could lose 300+ pages easily), the often wilfully opaque stories in Oblivion, or the CPU-on-speed attack of his “floating eye” essays. Might this have been (or be) the perfect distillation of all Foster Wallace’s talents? All his strengths are here, in full bloom—his dizzying insights into the microbial su...more
oriana
Apr 15, 2011 oriana marked it as to-read
description

The Goodreads gods are jerks.

***

Dear Goodreads gods,

If I win the First Reads giveaway for this book, my entire life will have meaning. Every book I've ever read, and every review I've ever written, will have led me to this crowning moment. I've even created a new shelf just for The Pale King: to-read-immediately. I promise to neglect every other aspect of my life, including my dog and my boyfriend and my work, to read this when it comes.
PLEASE GIVE ME THIS BOOK PLEASE?

Sincerely yours,
oriana
Krok Zero
Sep 15, 2010 Krok Zero marked it as to-read
THIS IS ABOUT MFSO HES JERKIN OFF THINKIN ABOUT IT
Nick Black
Feb 11, 2012 Nick Black rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Nick by: Chisho1m
Shelves: likely-reread
well, first off, whew! it has been entirely, inexplicably, unforgivably too long since i've read a new book! what the hell happened? the end of 2011 was terribly shitty in pretty much every sense, and 2012 has been wholly consumed getting zee komputerkorp up off the ground (i've got a company that makes computers...or a computer that makes companies...i forget the details). so, what have we here?

chapter 46's long paean to aspergery goodness could have been pretty much lifted from any number of c...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
"'The Human Heart is a Chump': Cataloging The Pale King"; Jenn Shapland works in the Ransom Center and writes in The Millions about her experience cataloging The Pale King archival material:
http://www.themillions.com/2012/10/th...
The final paragraph:
"I don’t know what people will find in these folders or how they’ll choose to interpret this new installment to the record of Wallace’s works. What I’m certain they will discover is that within the boxes, numbered 36-41, lies not a single unfinished...more
Jesse
So as you all know, Wallace’s writing style is highly contagious; thus, I will push back against the marriage of breezy witticism and Wikipedic knowledge that is Wallace’s distinctive style. I began “The Pale King” with an odd feeling of elation mixed with bittersweet bemoanment. I had waited for years for a new DFW novel. And while I love his non-fiction as much as the next guy, the non-fiction stuff seemed like buying a ticket to be inside Wallace’s brain as he did typically middle American a...more
Natalie
Apr 17, 2011 Natalie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
RIP David Foster Wallace. It is so fucking weird that they released your book about the IRS on April 15th that I can hardly stand to write about it. So I made this picture instead.

Chris
May 01, 2011 Chris rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Chris by: Scott Gates
I've spend many, many hours arguing about (mostly against) DFW's merits and place in literature since reading Infinite Jest, way back in 1999 on vacation in Spain; toting the gigantic English paperback edition around from hostel to hostel, taking it on buses and trains through Andalucia, having bought it on the insistent and frenzied recommendation of my dear friend, Scott. A challenging book, annoyingly demanding the use of two bookmarks, and endless flipping from the chapter to the endnotes. N...more
Jason
Jul 20, 2012 Jason rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: someone who's read Infinite Jest
So I don't feel like I have anything substantive to say about the book and (see spoiler if you dare) I don't want to add a lot of redundant information, but I can say that The Pale King really solidified the feelings I had about DFW. I have a lot more to say about him after reading this, but that's for another venue.

For starters, going into the book knowing that one of the major themes was supposed to be about life’s boringness, and for all the reviews I had read that mentioned the same, I reall...more
matt
I'm about a hundred pages in and this book is enthralling and gleamingly (not forbiddingly) complex. I love DFW profoundly, he's one of the writers I turn to for the usual reasons one turns to favorite (personal!) writers. There's insight, wit, beauty, power, depth, irony, verisimilitude, all of that stuff but also a strange sort of love. I don't mean this in an Oprah way or even 'agape' but this kind of... benevolence.

The world is an often ugly, unfair, crude and fucked-up place perhaps more...more
Kathrina
Dear DFW,
You are. This book is. My response is. The regular guy I(we, readers, CPAs, students, baton twirlers) never knew, never will know, thought for a moment I(we) knew, the guy with regular feelings about guilt, being a slob(me), being a dork(me), knowing and using too many big words in just the right way, your endless asides (using the word "paren" out loud), the guy you can never know just by reading his prose, fiction or non-, the unknowable narrative, the unknowable voice, the unknowable...more
Darwin8u
If a novel about IRS examiners in a Midwest Regional Examination Center seems like a bad pitch, and definitely a boring novel, you will have almost grasped about one-half the magic of DFW. This is absolutely a novel about boredom, tedium, loneliness, isolation, bureaucracy, melancholy, and depression. Did I also mention this book is damn funny and absurd? I giggled at parts. I cried at parts. I cried and giggled at parts. There are books I love for their power. There are books I love for their a...more
Adam
The really obvious thing that everyone keeps talking about is how sad the reality of this unfinished novel is, how sad it is that DFW the man killed himself and how sad it is that we lost DFW the writer. And it's understandable, talking about that is, because we're human beings and when a writer allows us to connect so deeply with him, when he takes us on the massively emotional trip that most fans of DFW think his books ultimately are, and then is taken by his illness, we feel just as we would...more
Brad
There was a unique, and horrible sadness finishing this book. David Foster Wallace has been a companion via the bookshelf since 1997. I read 'Infinite Jest' when I, myself, was going through rehab at a shady inpatient facility in Chandler, AZ at age 20. I had the distinct and remarkable pleasure of following him throughout most of his literary career.

Like most of his serious fans, his mastery of the personal, perfectly honed first person became a counterpoint to my own internal and wandering mo...more
Jim
David Foster Wallace takes on the central problem of our times. The book can be neatly summed up in section 45, that is pages 439-440 and ends with the sentence "If you are immune to boredom there is literally nothing you can't accomplish". Pale King is therefore a perfect complement or maybe the development of the idea of infinite jest (the desperate need to be entertained), by presenting that imperative's underlying cause "rather the way the ability to breathe and pump blood underlies all thou...more
Ruby  Tombstone [Uncensored or Else]
How do you review an unfinished book? How do you even start to review an unfinished DFW book about magical tax agents and boredom?

I think I start by saying that the book I read is quite a different book to the book that DFW apparently wanted to write, if you believe the endnotes. The eight pages at the end tell a far more interesting story than do the 540 pages of actual text. You can't review an author's intentions, though, so all I can really do is to try to review the book that was published....more
Lazarus P Badpenny Esq
A triumphant, mesmerising meditation on, and embodiment of, the transcendent potential of boredom. Gradually the reader emerges from the detailed monotony of IRS tax system minutae into the full tragicomic landscape of postmodernity's implications, the horror of self-storage and self-love, a landscape populated by solopsistic oddballs and obsessive-compulsive whackjobs. I fear that Wallace may well have been documenting the latest, desperate stage of human evolution wherein man has attained the...more
Janet
Reading this in the brilliant audio version, supplemented by the print edition at home, useful whenever I zone and miss something, or want to check out the footnotes.

I'm half-way through, and I have to say, I'm loving this like mad--but I do wonder if I would I have stuck with it, reading it only on the page. I hate to think I would have missed out on such a great book because I read slowly, I might have got bogged down in Wallace's equivalent of the harpooning paraphernalia in Moby Dick, which...more
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Tedious, plotless, supercilious, pointless 3 111 May 10, 2013 12:33PM  
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90outloud video for The Pale King 1 24 Mar 12, 2013 09:25AM  
Whoa! How is this read for you guys? 4 50 Jan 26, 2013 12:25PM  
21st Century Lite...: General Discussion (No Spoilers Please!) 9 63 Sep 29, 2012 06:14AM  
21st Century Lite...: The Pale King: Section 21-30 25 54 Sep 04, 2012 10:57AM  
21st Century Lite...: The Pale King: Section 1-10 17 69 Sep 03, 2012 12:19PM  
  • Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace
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  • Train Dreams
  • Conversations with David Foster Wallace
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  • A Naked Singularity
  • Against the Day
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  • The Angel Esmeralda
  • Love in Infant Monkeys
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4339
David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything: novels, journalism, vacation. His life was an information hunt, collecting hows and whys. "I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today," he once said, "of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it fe...more
More about David Foster Wallace...
Infinite Jest Consider the Lobster and Other Essays A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again:  Essays and Arguments Brief Interviews with Hideous Men This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life

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“The next suitable person you’re in light conversation with, you stop suddenly in the middle of the conversation and look at the person closely and say, “What’s wrong?” You say it in a concerned way. He’ll say, “What do you mean?” You say, “Something’s wrong. I can tell. What is it?” And he’ll look stunned and say, “How did you know?” He doesn’t realize something’s always wrong, with everybody. Often more than one thing. He doesn’t know everybody’s always going around all the time with something wrong and believing they’re exerting great willpower and control to keep other people, for whom they think nothing’s ever wrong, from seeing it.” 238 likes
“To be, in a word, unborable.... It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish” 153 likes
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