The pale king An unfinished novel

David Foster Wallace

Book - 2011

The character David Foster Wallace is introduced to the banal world of the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, and the host of strange people who work there, in a novel that was unfinished at the time of the author's death.

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FICTION/Wallace, David Foster
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Subjects
Published
New York : Little, Brown and Co 2011.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
x, 548 p. ; 25 cm
ISBN
9780316074230
0316074233
Main Author
David Foster Wallace (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The overture to Wallace's unfinished last novel is a rhapsodic evocation of the subtle vibrancy of the midwestern landscape, a flat, wind-scoured place of potentially numbing sameness that is, instead, rife with complex drama. The Pale King is a feverishly encompassing, sharply comedic, and haunting work painstakingly assembled out of pieces rough and polished by Wallace's longtime editor, Michael Pietsch. Inevitably Wallace's long struggle with depression and 2008 suicide frame this churning tale of afflicted misfits who are drawn by some peculiar cosmic force to grimly regimented jobs at an Internal Revenue Service center in Peoria, Illinois. Yet this is not a novel of defeat but, rather, of oddly heroic persistence. Hypersensitive Claude Sylvanshine suffers from Random-Fact Intuition and fears that he's hard-wired for failure. Chris Fogle, who natters on in a stoner's stream of unnecessary detail, braves a record-breaking Chicago blizzard to get to an IRS recruitment office after witnessing his father's horrific death. Toni, who does not survive trailer-park violence unscathed, finds shelter in the rigidity of IRS work. Wallace fans won't be surprised when newbie David Wallace, carrying the stigmata of severe acne, not only becomes mired in "bureaucratic idiocy" when he's mistaken for a senior examiner with the same name but also claims to be the author of this "true and accurate" record. The real Wallace would have substantially revised this zealously researched, keenly internalized, tornadic novel. But the salvaged version is 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 (1985), 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, or at least a way station in a world where "everything is on fire, slow fire." Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Partway through this compendium of materials discovered after Wallace's tragic 2008 suicide, a character conflated with the author by name and false protestations of memoir writing recalls a youthful moment of drug taking. He could, he explains, "not only hear the music and each note and bar and key change and resolution of each track, but know, with the same kind of awareness and discrimination, that I was doing this, meaning really listening…but also being aware of the exact feelings and sensations the music produced in me." That sentence replicates exactly the experience of reading this book, which seems less to describe than to embody, in a carefully calculated overflow of language, the events presented. Ostensibly, this is about a man who ends up working for the IRS in the 1980s, a time of major administrative shift from gray-flannel servitude to aggressive number cracking, while also giving the backstories of not only our protagonist but other characters who end up encapsulating the IRS's defining ennui. Verdict This book delivers the powerful sensation that we're awash in data that only certain people know how to control, and they control it to their advantage. It's unfortunate that we can't see how the brilliant Wallace might finally have exerted control here, but at least we're invited into his final thoughts on the limits of our culture. Read this not as a novel (not even as an unfinished one) but as fragments of profound meditation, and you'll be fine. [See Prepub Alert, 10/25/10.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Partway through this compendium of materials discovered after Wallace's tragic 2008 suicide, a character conflated with the author by name and false protestations of memoir writing recalls a youthful moment of drug taking. He could, he explains, "not only hear the music and each note and bar and key change and resolution of each track, but know, with the same kind of awareness and discrimination, that I was doing this, meaning really listening…but also being aware of the exact feelings and sensations the music produced in me." That sentence replicates exactly the experience of reading this book, which seems less to describe than to embody, in a carefully calculated overflow of language, the events presented. Ostensibly, this is about a man who ends up working for the IRS in the 1980s, a time of major administrative shift from gray-flannel servitude to aggressive number cracking, while also giving the backstories of not only our protagonist but other characters who end up encapsulating the IRS's defining ennui. Verdict This book delivers the powerful sensation that we're awash in data that only certain people know how to control, and they control it to their advantage. It's unfortunate that we can't see how the brilliant Wallace might finally have exerted control here, but at least we're invited into his final thoughts on the limits of our culture. Read this not as a novel (not even as an unfinished one) but as fragments of profound meditation, and you'll be fine. [See Prepub Alert, 10/25/10.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The character David Foster Wallace is introduced to the banal world of the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, and the host of strange people who work there, in a novel that was unfinished at the time of the author's death. By the author of Infinite Jest. 100,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The character David Foster Wallace is introduced to the banal world of the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, and the host of strange people who work there, in a novel that was unfinished at the time of the author's death.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The "breathtakingly brilliant" novel by the author of Infinite Jest (New York Times) is a deeply compelling and satisfying story, as hilarious and fearless and original as anything Wallace ever wrote. 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."The Pale King is by turns funny, shrewd, suspenseful, piercing, smart, terrifying, and rousing." --Laura Miller, Salon

Review by Publisher Summary 4

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.