The Pale King
The Pale King
An Unfinished Novel
Back Bay Books, Paperback, 9780316074223, 550pp.
Publication Date: April 2012
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 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 fearless and as original as anything Wallace ever undertook. It grapples directly with ultimate questions--questions of life's meaning and of the value of work and society--through characters imagined with the interior force and generosity that were Wallace's unique gifts. Along the way it suggests a new idea of heroism and commands infinite respect for one of the most daring writers of our time.
"Wallace's finest work as a novelist...when Wallace steers the tanker back to its theme--the struggle to extract meaning from each second that passes, no matter how empty or lonely or indistinguishable from the second that came before it--The Pale King achieves power levels that Wallace never reached in his first two novels....His ability to render the fine finials and fractals and flourishes of a mind acting upon itself, from moment to moment, using only the blunt, numb instruments of language, has few if any equals in American literature."
-Lev Grossman, TIME
"Deeply sad, deeply philosophical...By turns breathtakingly brilliant and stupefying dull--funny, maddening and elegiac...in almost everything Wallace wrote, including THE PALE KING, he aimed to use words to lasso and somehow subdue the staggering, multifarious, cacophonous predicament that is modern American life."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Feverishly encompassing, sharply comedic, and haunting...this is not a novel of defeat but, rather, of oddly heroic persistence....electrifying in its portrayal of individuals seeking unlikely refuge in a vast, absurd bureaucracy. In the spirit of Borges, Gaddis, and Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Wallace conducts a commanding and ingenious inquiry into monumental boredom, sorrow, the deception of appearances, and the redeeming if elusive truth that any endeavor, however tedious, however impossible, can become a conduit to enlightenment.'"
-Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
"Nothing short of sublime--the first two chapters are a real put-the-reader-on-notice charging bull blitz, and the David Foster Wallace sections...are tiny masterpieces....achingly funny...pants-pissingly hilarious."
"One of the saddest and most lovely books I've ever read...Let's state this clearly: You should read THE PALE KING....You'll be [kept up at night] because D.F.W. writes sentences and sometimes whole pages that make you feel like you can't breathe."
-Benjamin Alsup, Esquire