Frederick's Reviews > The Pale King

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
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's review
May 23, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, wallace-david-foster

I listened to the Hachette Audiobook, read by an actor ideally suited to the task: Robert Petkoff.
I will point out that, when I got toward the end, I began comparing the U.S. hardcover edition (published by Little, Brown)to the audiobook and I discovered the texts were different. The audiobook, had entire sentences in it which I couldn't find in the print version, and name substitutions -- for example, the audio has the character's name "Shinn" in Chapter 49 instead of the name "Chris Fogle"), which are inconsistent name-changes at that -- for example, "Chris Fogle" has another chapter earlier in the book and both the Audio and the hardcover use the name "Chris Fogle.") One chapter gives the name of its point-of-view character throughout in the hardcover while the Audiobook simply has her as "the woman.") Strange stuff, but my guess is the audiobook was recorded before THE PALE KING was given a final edit. The hardcover was published in the US on April 15th, 2011 -- Income Tax day, of course -- and my assumption is the so-called "International Edition", the ISBN for which is given on the copyright page, may be identical, in wording, to the Audiobook. I seem to see on Goodreads that readers in other parts of the world -- I'm from the US -- were posting reviews before the book was published in its author's native country. In any case, sometimes the audiobook makes things clearer and sometimes the (US) hardcover makes things clearer. The footnotes are excluded entirely from the audio, except in the cases where the footnote has an asterisk instead of a number. I found the footnotes actually give away things which are better left revealed in the narrative proper, so the lack of footnotes in the audiobook is, perhaps, not an essential detractor.
Now to the book: It is absolutely as advertised. Wallace rings in all the changes here. I think there are enough similarities to MOBY-DICK (both books being about people immersing themselves in work of a most challenging sort; both books having, early into the narrative, a curmudgeonly fellow telling those about to embark on their journey what they're in for -- Father Mapple in MOBY-DICK, the guest lecturer at DePaul in the PALE KING; both books having at least one description of a very pale being -- the one in PALE KING gets described as having a face like a whale. It's a fleeting description, but you'll find it.)
THE PALE KING is very funny in parts and also harrowing. The scary parts are like Stephen King in an extremely realistic mood. There is a touch of Hunter Thompson. Above all, this novel captures an American essence I haven't seen successfully captured in decades. It is a beautiful, monumental and rewarding book.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Frederick I'll add I also learned a few things reading this book: IRS men really DO wear those hats (as seen on the logo for IRS Records), the facades of a lot of IRS buildings are made to look like giant 1040 forms (see pages 277-278 of the U.S. edition -- ISBN: 9780316074230) and numerous other tidbits about late 20th-century American bureaucracy. Also, inasmuch as I am about halfway in age between two of the main protagonists, Chris Fogle and the character David Wallace, I can say the descriptions of life in the seventies and eighties are shockingly accurate.

Elizabeth Sulzby This is helpful. Sometimes when I find a book too much of a challenge to keep eyes-on-print, for various reasons, the audio version helps. This is the case with some Russian literature--and I find DFW similar in many ways to some Russian literature. I am just getting started on the text version and very discouraged. Some reviews are helping. I think I will read some of the chapters that others have found more approachable and then maybe come back to the "laid-out" order of chapters. Thanks for your review.

Frederick Elizabeth wrote: "This is helpful. Sometimes when I find a book too much of a challenge to keep eyes-on-print, for various reasons, the audio version helps. This is the case with some Russian literature--and I fin..."You're welcome! DFW wrote an essay on Dostoevsky. I think it appears in CONSIDER THE LOBSTER, but don't quote me. (Or footnote me!) I recommend the audiobook of THE PALE KING if only because the reader finds nuance in phrases which, in cold print, would blend into the monolithic wall of sameness DFW writes about. One interesting thing is that Wallace often tells a very long, seemingly pointless story and then says something sudden, sharp and funny.

Elizabeth Sulzby Thanks, I also caught your mention of Stephen King. I am listening to 11/22/63 on CD in the car now. I think I will reserve the audio for The Pale King at my local library "just in case."
I should be able to find the Dostoevsky essay since there is such a wealth of bibliography on DFW. Thanks again.

Frederick You're welcome! I think you'll find the voice on THE PALE KING almost perfect.

Elizabeth Sulzby That is some achievement!

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