Adam's Reviews > The Pale King

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
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's review
May 03, 2011

liked it

Giving The Pale King a rating feels strange. It isn't fair, I don't think, to expect a book compiled of notes and unfinished stories to feel as satisfying as a completed novel. But somewhere along the way someone decided that it was complete enough to bind and sell for full price, so it's hard not to treat it as such.

It's anyone's guess how "finished" this book really is. Wallace's long time editor seems to think it's likely that it's near completion. Even though I'm not as qualified to make that call as he is, I think differently. It wouldn't surprise me if The Pale King was meant to stretch three times its current length. I suppose it doesn't matter, though. We'll never know for sure.

Overall, I enjoyed The Pale King quite a bit. Being that it's a David Foster Wallace book it's obviously poignant, well written, and more than a little all over the place. The fact that it's incomplete, however, makes his trademark all-over-the-placeness notably more frustrating and depressing than his other novels. You meet a lot of characters (a WHOLE lot), hear a lot of short stories about them, and get introduced to many, many sub stories. None of these end, even in a passive way. It's only near the "end" of the book that these stories and characters really start to interact in any substantial way, even.

The Pale King very likely would have been hailed as DFW's new masterpiece if completed. Instead we get a tease - a beginning of a book that has no end, unified only by vague themes like "boredom." If you're a fan of Wallace, you'll probably read this book no matter what I say, and you should. What's here is brilliant. But songs aren't as pretty when they end halfway through the chorus.
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