Read The Pale King by David Foster Wallace Robert Petkoff Online


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 momThe 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....

Title : The Pale King
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ISBN : 9781609419752
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Number of Pages : 19 Pages
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The Pale King Reviews

  • Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
    2019-03-30 17:47

    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 consecutively worked at) and popping pharmaceutical grade amphetamines may have also contributed to such feelings. Of course, I never really lost sight of the breadcrumb trail of rational explanations for why I felt this way, but as I moved on through the book it just kept raising up remarkable coincidences, one after the other, in its numerous references to IL's Cook and Lake County area locales, drug (ab)use and shifting attitudes towards said drug (ab)use, working at a psychiatric facility, shifting attitudes towards intellectual pursuits, and ongoing transformations within big ol' overarching worldviews, and various other details. During these graveyard shift reading experiences—which made up most of my time with this deeply personal, unfinished swan song—I took copious notes on two pieces of scrap paper that began solely as a makeshift bookmark. Among these notes is a scattered list of numerous places mentioned that are all very close by and a part of the greater Chicago region, the place I've occupied for nearly all of my life. Continually seeing the name of the itty bitty suburban town I lived in during high school written inside of this book (in reference to a fictional college, but still) was a bit of a thrill. So not only was I able to get the deeper, personal Identification with Wallace's words that I've come to expect and that he's generously supplied me with throughout the years, but so much of it was literally mentioning specific places I've been to and/or driven through, exploring the nature of the specific drugs I was taking at the time, and the ins and outs of the specific kind of job I'd been working at for the last year plus and was sitting at while I read. It all made me feel even "closer" to the man whom I've never met or spoken to and who doesn't even exist anymore. To quickly rehash what most people even peripherally familiar with this book might already know: it's unfinished and was assembled by Wallace's longtime editor, Michael Pietsche, who whittled down the 1000+ pages, stacked neatly on DFW's desk at the time of his suicide, down to a about half that size. Pietsche has stated that all together, counting floppy disks, hand written and typwritered bits, etc., the work is originally more like 3,000 pages. He writes a lovely foreword to the book explaining the great emotional pains and the redeeming pleasures of the editing process and I can't think of anyone better to have taken up the task. Much like Infinite Jest, the more I think about this book the more overwhelmingly detailed and lengthy the review brewing in my head becomes. Looking at the tiny scrawl of my notes isn't helping to preemptively trim this down, neither is thinking about all of the broad, associative ways in which to connect the details of this book and my experience with it to Wallace, my life, and Life generally. Here's the attempt.In the time leading up to the publication of The Pale King the word on the street was that this book was about boredom and about the IRS.{1} Despite the way this sounds, big DFW fans were still drooling with anticipation, knowing full well that Wallace has a well-documented knack for making the mundane magical. While the book is in part about these things, it's also about so much more. Instead of saying that the theme is simply "boredom and taxes" it does it much more service to say that the book is thematically concerned with the importance of a self-disciplined use of one's attention as a means of overcoming—not only boredom—but the apathy, cynicism and nihilism that triangulate to cause the symptoms of boredom and its close causally-connected relative: depression. ____________________________________________{1} See message 59 in the comment section for my pre-reading placeholder "review".____________________________________________As I was thinking about writing this review it occurred to me that The Pale King is a kind of response to the previous "long thing" (a term DFW used at various times to describe all three of his extended works, i.e. novels). Infinite Jest details the cultural-psychological problems of modern, first world life (e.g. pathological distraction through trivial entertainment and advertising, inter-/intra-personal disconnection, depression, addictive thought and behavior, et al.) and in a way The Pale King is an attempt to offer solutions. The outline of solutions can be found in the now famous keynote address he gave at the Kenyon College graduation ceremony in 2005, which went on to be published in a (somewhat controversial) form entitled This is Water. "The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day."The persistent thematic concern with thinking carefully and compassionately is spread throughout these unfinished pages. Wallace is rarely triumphant in tone, but offers his tenative theories with profound earnestness, encircling the demons of unthoughtful selfish self-destruction with both an analytic precision and a provisional caution that is his trademark style of inquiry. The idea seems to be to simply try and think harder about why people behave the way they do and to never fail to indict ourselves in the process. That all sounds very pat and obvious, but that's the best way I can seem to relay it at the moment. In a big way this book just has to be read to really be felt and understood, but I'll do my best to set up road signs pointing in the general direction of the book's powerful content.Wallace's somewhat self-depreciating use of the term "long thing" to describe his novels is really pretty apt when it comes to The Pale King, moreso than with his first two novels. It may be a symptom of the unfinished quality, but this book is much more of a collection of vignettes than anything one might call a novel. People often say this about Infinite Jest as well, but IJ revisits characters and plots throughout its course in a way that this posthumous production does not. This fact of the matter is not a problem for me in the least, because when I read DFW I'm not in need of the suspension of disbelief that people seem to yearn for a lot of the time. I make the connections to what I know about his life, I imagine his writing process as I read his words, and this is immensely satisfying. That's not to say that I can't feel for the characters-as-characters, because I very much do, but I don't need to know everything about them, or for them to have wildly distinct ways of thinking and speaking. I don't need traditional story arcs laid out before me—I'm accustom to fragmentation, and so is the culture at large—this is a fast-cut edited world we live in, afterall. Chapters in this book aren't even called "chapters" rather the double-S section symbol (§, i.e. signum sectionis) is used both as an allusion to tax code and legal documents, and, I think, as a way of nodding to the largely disconnected narrative structure of the book. None of this is a problem in the least because the content within the incohesive plotlines is solid DFW gold, and there's a deeper, more unusual kind of coherence that ties the vignettes together: it's more thematic and between the lines than a typical novel.§ 5 is easily the funniest section of the entire book. It describes a do-gooder child that embodies such over the top polite and nerdy perfection that it simply has to be read to be appreciated. I read this section a total of three times before moving on significantly through the rest of the book. One time I read it aloud, something I'd never done with any of DFW's writing before. It was illuminating. I've written before about how I really never notice the epic sentence-length that he tends to go to because I'm usually too wrapped up in the content to notice the lack of periods. However, the run-on nature of his writing hit me hard while reading it outloud. Much laughter was had between myself and the listener, in between large gulps of air at the rest stops of commas and em dashes. The listener had never read DFW but laughed so hard that they fell out of bed. I would direct skeptics and naysayers of Wallace to read this section if they're ever willing to give him a(nother) chance.§ 8 is one of the most gorgeously written sections of the book. The language might be characterized as more "poetic" than DFW usually is or is usually characterized as being. A trailer park scene as viewed by a, say, Updikean prose stylist. The main characters from this scene are not mentioned again until a taut, dramatic bit towards the tail end of the book. § 15 was what prompted my pen to make initial contact with the aforeillustrated scrap sheet of Adderall-scrawl above. This section begins to more clearly define what's happening within the head of IRS agent Claude Sylvanshine, the first character we meet the thoughts of in § 1. A syndrome called Random Fact Intuition is described and eventually attributed to Sylvanshine. The syndrome consists of the suffer ("those possessed with RFI almost universally refer to it as an affliction or disability") being filled with random facts at random times about any number of random things. This is one of the most potent passages in the book. In three pages Wallace manages to distill the entire (now fairly commonly understood{2}) idea of 'the information overload in the Internet Age' down to its essence and to emit a personal SOS distress signal—DFW once said something, half-jokingly, about his trademark headgear being worn to keep his head from exploding. ____________________________________________{2} I should mention that in the time it took me to find a magazine image about information overload I was distracted multiple times by various things on the internet for probably a good 20 minutes before finally focusing and finding something. Meta-info-overload.____________________________________________The section ends with this paragraph:"Tastes a Hostess cupcake. Knows where it was made; knows who ran the machine that sprayed a light coating of chocolate frosting on top; knows that persons weight, shoe size, bowling average, American Legion career batting average; he knows the dimensions of the room that person is in right now. Overwhelming." (p. 121)§ 19 is a brilliant extended meditation on extremely important and more-relevant-than-ever topics about (mostly) American socio-economic-cultural issues as told through a conversation held in an elevator between a few mostly nameless, presumably well-educated characters that work in various capacities for the Internal Revenue Service. Fantastic insights and penetrating questions fill these pages from stem to stern, while hugely complex ideas are made clear and direct without sacrificing nuance and doubt. It's also the first time I've seen the concept of corporate personhood pop up in a novel and brought up with an interesting twist (for the record, nothing in this book is said to extend beyond the mid 1980s):"Corporations aren't citizens or neighbors or parents. They can't vote or serve in combat. They don't learn the Pledge of Allegiance. They don't have souls. They're revenue machines. I don't have any problem with that. I think it's absurd to lay moral or civic obligations on them. Their only obligations are strategic, and while they can get very complex, at root they're not civic entities. With corporations, I have no problem with government enforcement of statutes and regulatory policy serving a conscience function. What my problem is is the way it seems that we as individual citizens have adopted a corporate attitude. That our ultimate obligation is to ourselves." (p. 137)As the conversation proceeds about how individuals and communities and public and private institutions all interact, corporate power and personal responsibility, et al., one character is led to breathlessly rattle off a stunning, page-long (p. 143) block of text about the inevitability of death, a topic Wallace's writing, fiction and non, seemed to have largely avoided previously for whatever reason(s). It's achingly beautiful in the way such things often are. At the end of this soliloquy of sorts the tone turns on a dime from unspeakably sad and impassioned to this:'This is supposed to be news to us. News flash: We're going to die.''Why do you think people buy health insurance?''Let him finish.''Now this is depressing instead of just boring.'This is the most directly intellectually stimulating section of the book and keeps the ledger balanced with neither humor or seriousness toppling the scales, while hearty servings of both are piled high.Clocking in at 98 pages § 22 is the longest section in the book and comes to mind first as the most rewarding. It's also the most autobiographical from what I can tell. [I just wrote and then erased "I don't even know what to say about it" which is not true. I have many things to say about it. I just wrote the following words down to try and make a sort of outline: Drugs, Attention, Dad, Growing Up. Actually, I'm going to leave it at that because I could go on and on and on about this section and this review's length is already probably testing some readers' endurance and the maximum character count for GR reviews.] I'll just say that this section is amazingly fun and sad and wise, and is the one with the most references to my neck of the woods, and has a great bit about being stoned and watching As The World Turns, and about taking prescription amphetamines being the birth of meta-awareness, and about what it means to grow up, and about the highs and lows of the parent/child relationship, and about shifting one's way in the world from apathetic nihilism to carefully attentive compassion.Perhaps the most perplexing swaths of the book are two boldly metafictional sections where Wallace addresses the reader as himself. It seemed out of place to me, not just because a Foreword is usually at the beginning of a book, but because since the publication of the magisterial attack/tribute to metafiction that rounds out Girl With Curious Hair ("Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way") Wallace hasn't really been so overtly metafictional in-print. I feel like there must be more to it than I realize but I can't quite seem to figure out what that "more" is. The obvious intuitions would be that it's peturbing the sense that the novel exists seperately from the author, all that "Death of the Author" theoretical lit crit stuff, etc, or even making fun of that kind of stuff, ultra-metafictionally. But all this seems far too facile for a man who so thoroughly trounced the pretensions of generationally regurgitated styles and artistic programmes of experimental/avante garde/metafictional techniques as far back as 1989 (in "Westward") or with mind-blowing precision and cogency in this well-known interview in 1993. It's puzzling because he often criticized this kind of thing. The first interruption, which begins with the words "Author here" is § 9, entitled "Author's Foreword" which goes on to claim that "The Pale King is, in point of fact, more like a memoir than any kind of made-up story" and involves a whole thing about the legal disclaimer placed in the copywrite, et al. section of nearly all novels about 'The characters and events in this book are fictitious.' A few pages later the point is made blunty again that "The Pale King is basically a non-fiction memoir, with additional elements of reconstructive journalism, organizational psychology, elementary civics and tax theory, & c." Well, whatever it really is, it's emotionally jarring and deeper than the Nile. There's an interesting bit in this section (which leads into a whole series of musings about writing memoirs for money) about Wallace selling term papers while in college and getting caught and then kicked out, which weirdly enough for this section, is totally made up, at least the kicked out part. The same goes for his claim to have worked at the IRS during a period of taking time off from school. The questions about what's memoirish and what isn't all get very confusing and maybe, probably, that's the point he was aiming for, but despite all of that: within this bizarre framework remain top-notch musings and fascinating storytelling.§ 46 is a lengthy conversation between two IRS workers at a bar, which eerily alludes to a character's superhuman ability to focus attention (which is obliquely mentioned elsewhere as something that powers-that-be might be interested in getting their hands on—reminiscent of a certain sought after video cartridge in another book) and involves a really moving and disturbing account of mental health treatment and marital disarray. § 48 is so bizarre and frightening—it's like David Lynch's darkest, strangest moments all packed into a single scene. Stunning stuff.There's a section in which each sentence is more or less 'So and so turn another page. Such and such coughed.' Ad nauseum. But nestled within this exercise of banal description is a gem of a phrase "Every love story is a ghost story." This act of watching boredom transform into beauty is a powerful small scale version of (one of) the big thematic idea(s) in The Pale King: that finding things of lasting beauty and meaning isn't always easy. That it takes effort. That "[s]ometimes what's important is dull," as an agent declares during the civics conversation.This is a weird and beautiful book and its weirdness and beauty are strung together with a dazzlingly complex intelligence at play, all encouraging the reader to exert real attentional effort and thoughtful engagement while still passively getting spoon-fed doses of pure entertainment. There are big, important ideas anchoring this thing, and the details are so rich and amusing and transcendently pleasurable to grapple with that it's the kind of book that can be re-read and re-re-read with exponential gains. The sadness that permeates and surrounds the book has an obvious source—its lasting and redemptive value is a true gift."Every love story is a ghost story."

  • Paul Bryant
    2019-04-07 22:35

    THE MONEY I DID NOT WANT3 years ago I noticed mysterious amounts were appearing in my current account. Regularly. Every week! They came from the tax office and they were tax credits. I hadn't applied for any tax credits. So I phoned them up. They said "We can't stop it unless we know what account these monies SHOULD be paid into and we won't know that until someone complains." I said well, what are you going to do? they said, we'll be in touch. So - last month I got a letter through the post saying oh, remember all that dough we paid you by mistake, well now we want it back. Total of money paid to me which shouldn't have been : £4026 ($6493). Well it wasn't my money so i hadn't spent it so I can pay it back but you know, I'm a little peeved with their casual maladministrative ways and who's to know that if I send the idiots a cheque they might lose it or cash it and stick it in the wrong account. IF YOU COULD SPEND LINGUISTIC VIRTUOSITY DAVID FOSTER WALLACE COULD HAVE WRITTEN OFF THE THIRD WORLD DEBT BURDEN ALL BY HISSELFI'm getting the very strong impression that DFW was a writer of immense gifts and brains who never really found his thing, his field, whatever you call it, so he ended up writing about any thing he happened to trip over (the non fiction) and then two giant anti-novels - this one's acknowledged "subject" is dull jobs which is a kind of admission of defeat which he then turns into a demonstration of virtuosity - look, I can even write great stuff about boredom. But this can also look like flailing about - this is called a(n unfinished) novel by default, because it's not anything else particularly; but it's actually a collection of disconnected DFW writings, some of which are about the IRS and some not. Every chapter in this book so far is in a different style, a different tangent, like a collection of unrelated short stories or riffs.LA BELLE WALLACE SANS MERCII 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.)MY UNFINISHED SYMPATHYRight there on page one, alright, page 3 actually if you're pedantic, and if you're not pedantic then please stay FAR away from this novel, which is a full-throttle celebration of pedantry, amongst many other things, and doesn't have a plot, which I know many readers hanker for, is this :invaginate volunteer beansWhat a lovely phrase. Come on, let's have a few more – on page 5 :A staggering girl underhanding you nuts(that's a description of a stewardess on a very small plane!). Another one, a bit longer :The birds at dusk and the smell of snapped pine and a younger one's cinnamon gum. The shimmying motions resemble those of a car travelling at high speeds along a bad road, making the Buick's static aspect dreamy and freighted with something like romance or death in the gaze of the girls who squat at the copse's risen edge, appearing dyadic and eyes half again as wideand solemn, watching for the sometime passage of a limb's pale shape past a window (once a bare foot flat against it and itself atremble), moving incrementally forward and down each night in the week before true spring, soundlessly daring one anotherto go get up close to the heaving car and see in, which the only one who finally does sothen sees naught but her own wide eyes reflected as from inside the glass comes a cry she knows too well, which wakes her again each time across the trailer's cardboard wall.I could copy pages of this stuff out with pleasure, about 25% of the book is like that, but we must get on. Hustle, bustle.IS NOT A NOVELOne thing novels do, which they've always done, and it might be not one thing but the thing, is drag in enormous chunks of human experience for our contemplation, to try to make some kind of sense of. They set you behind the eyes of a multiplicity of characters, who usually aren't like ourselves at all except in a you are me and we are all together kind of way, and The Pale King is no exception, it is dragging in the subject of stultifyingly tedious deskwork for our edification, which actually means, since also, there is nothing you could mistake for a plot even if you have really poor eyesight and the characters fade in and out randomly, that The Pale King is more like our own lives than a lot of other novels where you get things actually happening and outcomes and motivations made clear and exciting events like kissing and policemen and all that. We will always need novels because we will always need to compare realities, yours with mine and theirs, and because we need to counteract our own technologically-induced solipsism, which you might say is an odd thing to say, since non-readers think of readers as somewhat on the introverted-solipsistic side, but you are not alone when reading, you are the opposite, you're right inside someone else's thought, an intimate relationship you hardly get anywhere else. What you're reading really is what the author thought.But otherwise The Pale King does pretty much the opposite of all other novels, it's about all the stuff novelists avoid like the plague, it revels in boring technical jargon, it bathes you in excruciating detail, people say shit like "Here they get standard kicks from Martinsburg, plust ESTs, plus exam requests from CID. They do fats that St Louis doesn't even bother to open they're so fat. They do contract work for Corporate Audit when a CA goes multiyear. The whole thing's almost Phillygrade."I WILL BE FRANK, YOU DESERVE NO LESSIf you take the 25% of this novel which isn't like that, isn't all about the hapless wigglers, is about, instead, the bizarre story of the boy who wished to press his lips to every part of his own body (he begins this task by giving himself a spinal injury), or chapter 8 (early life of Toni Ware), all this other non-IRS stuff, what you have there is the beginning of one of the all time great American novels. But that is not the novel DFW wanted to write. Unfortunately for me! He wanted to write this one, or some approximation thereof, since it's unfinished. Reading and reviewing TPK is a double problem, the same one posed by the monologues of Spalding Gray (which also revel in run-on sentences and "tornadic" presentation; and both witty brilliant men bursting with life and ideas in their art, and suffering chronic depression in their life and presenting us with this painful conundrum) plus the other one you get from Mervyn Peake's Titus Alone and Dickens' Edwin Drood. You just don't know if some sections were first drafts which he would have fixed. One character, for instance, repeats the phrase "Type of thing" so many times it becomes enraging and puerile. But maybe that was his intended effect. And maybe he would have rewritten that section. Another instance is chapter 46, a 60 page conversation between a devastatingly beautiful woman and a complete dork. To steal a line from that well-known sitcom Friends (!I know!), it's not that this chapter is bad, it's that it's so bad it makes me want to push my finger through my eye into my brain and swirl it around. So yes, there are multiple problems with this document called The Pale King.A BEAUTIFUL BIRD WITH A BROKEN WING FLAPPING ABOUTIf I didn't know that DFW intended his novel to be "a series of set-ups for things to happen but nothing ever happens" (DFW quoted by the editor) then I'd be describing the whole thing as like watching a big beautiful bird with a broken wing making numerous painful attempts to get airborne but always crashing back and trying again. Just when you think the novel has found the take-off point, it stops and reboots. I only found one single bad review of this novel, in the Washington Post, which was saying its publication was merely a cynical cash-in, and unworthy. I disagree. But I also disagree with the reviewers who find traces of grand themes and big points here. I don't think Wallace got that far. It seems this thing would have needed to be another thousand-pager. It's possible he WAS going to make such points as that government bureaucracy is actually a bastion against chaos and not the enemy it is knee-jerkily scapegoated as; that there was a battle for the soul of the IRS going on in the 1980s; and that this battle was joined by IRS wigglers who had curious and very mild super-powers (two such people are mentioned); or that Almost anything that you pay close, direct attention to becomes interesting.And surely we are getting close to some kind of declaration of intent in the following great quote from a substitute lecturer :I wish to inform you that the accounting profession to which you aspire is, in fact, heroic...gentlemen: here is a truth : enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is...No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth - actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it, no one is interested.And later, on p 438 :It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.ASIDE ON STALINI have seen that given as the explanation for Stalin's mysterious ascent in the Bolshevik party. None of the other revolutionaries could be bothered with the bureaucratic grinding involved in actually running the party, but he could – nicknamed Stone-arse for his ability to sit at his desk for hours. He could have been a great wiggler.WHAT COULD HAVE BEANSo – this could have been a towering novel but what we actually have is a hotch-potch. There are stretches of insanely tiresome dialogues, there are beautiful vignettes, there is deadpan satire and there are really long sentences. Do I recommend it? Well…. You know, what can I say exceptInvaginate volunteer beans!

  • RandomAnthony
    2019-04-02 19:32

    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 approach The Pale King slobbering over DFW's fiction. By this novel's end I felt like I had experienced a masterwork.The Pale King revolves around an Internal Revenue Service center in Peoria, Illinois. IRS personnel gather and engage in the implementation of the potentially soul-killing detail inherent in tax law and policy. Others have written, of course, of paperwork's drudgery, but only Wallace, in my experience, captures the way one's mind navigates eight hours of precise, abstract analysis. Some characters develop panicked, sweat-laden self-talk and almost turn hallucinatory in their attempts to master tasks or accelerate minutes. Getting caught in traffic in a packed, airless car, for example, allows the author an opportunity for a brilliant, dizzying inner monologue about how the roads could have been better designed, the IRS's policies concerning warning stickers on windshields, and whether or not fellow passengers can sense the narrator's anxiety. But it's more than that. Way more. It's the tight-wire tension of a potentially cute girl sitting behind you while you worry that you're going to sweat through your clothes. It's nerds sharing office legends. It's meticulously cataloging every act in a quiet room. It's making little promises like “I will finish the next two tax returns before I check the time.” It's very hard to explain but penetrates every American's (if not human's) existence. It's a conversation about the type of people drawn to tax auditing. It's a man in a bar listening so intensely to a woman's story that he starts to levitate. It's trying to separate important facts when your mind processes trivia. It's believing that everyone around you knows more and feels more comfortable than you. Wallace doesn't mythologize as much as he obsessively itemizes office hours with endless sentences that mirror the way a train of thought rapid-fires into the next. So were I, for example, to recommend The Pale King to James, I would probably say “It's about working in a Peoria IRS Center but it's about boredom and hope and despair and more but I can't explain it well so you're on your own.” The Pale King is filled with wonder and a curious and powerful paradox of magical realism crossed with an uncomfortable claustrophobic reality. Wallace seems to have found a frantic and exhausting joy in close observation.I read this book over ten days in part because I only had fourteen days with the library copy. But now that I've finished The Pale King I've needed time to readjust to normal novels, you know, the kind with plots and main characters and recognizable storylines. David Foster Wallace's The Pale King is so unique and spellbinding that it's beyond imitation. This book inhabits its own stratosphere. Five stars. No doubt.

  • FrancoSantos
    2019-04-04 23:51

    Qué raro se me hace el tener todo esto dentro y que para vosotros no sean más que palabras.David Foster Wallace ya no se encuentra entre nosotros. Las heridas todavía están abiertas. Solo nos queda su obra, las historias en las que se refugiaba y a su vez sangraba. Es lo único que nos mantiene en contacto con esa alma nacida en Ithaca pero que vivió siempre en el dolor. Es duro hacer esta reseña. No es una simple relato, es mucho más. No son páginas, palabras y tinta. Este libro es la herencia de un escritor que lo supo todo menos ser feliz. Es su último regalo. El rey pálido consta de 50 capítulos, todos ellos con el característico detallismo extremo de Wallace, pletóricos de narrativa pesada y digresiones que exigen al extremo la atención y concentración del lector. Tiene personajes estrambóticos que rozan lo absurdo: un funcionario que tiene revelaciones extemporáneas de información irrelevante, como por ejemplo el peso de todas las pelusas que se encuentran en los bolsillos de una cierta cantidad de personas en una habitación; un chico que tiene como principal objetivo besar cada lugar de su cuerpo; una persona que le teme a los desagües, a los cuadernos de espiral, entre otras cosas, y que también padece un grave caso de hiperhidrosis; etcétera. El tema central es el aburrimiento. Y Wallace lo trató de manera superlativa, con prosa sincera y concisa. Abordó el tedio, esa mímesis inevitable que nos golpea con el paso a la adultez. Retrató con brillantez y agilidad que lo que nos separa del comportamiento agonístico animal es que usamos trajes y sonrisas sardónicas para atacar. También opino que el mensaje que nos trasmite es que hay algo más debajo de todo ese gris mortificante que a todos nos llegará; hay algo en ese aburrimiento que nos terminará completando como individuos. Que una vez que logremos lidiar con ese ímprobo, seremos invencibles. El héroe contemporáneo no usa armadura y rescata princesas en castillos, se localiza en una oficina y puede soportar años haciendo la misma actividad intransigente que le encomendaron. La burocracia es lo que nos transforma en héroes. Es mucho más reflexivo de lo que parece. A pesar de tener una inusitada cantidad de partes que expresan la mejor sátira de Wallace, hay otras que demuestran la profunda tristeza y la acuciante frustración que estaba sufriendo. Es por eso que quiero dedicarles un párrafo aparte a la soledad y la melancolía, que son palpables en cada línea de este trabajo. Se nota que hay un intento de mostrarnos —a nosotros, los lectores— el desprendimiento de la infancia, el desapego de lo que fue y nunca más volverá. Cómo nos trasladamos sobre una cinta automática desde un sistema simple a uno más complejo y, por definición, más exhaustivo. En el fondo, este es un libro sobre el crecimiento y el desamparo. Nos enseña que nadie vendrá a rescatarnos, que ya se terminó esa etapa en que éramos inmortales.Fue doloroso llegar al final. Cada tanto tomo el libro y verifico si realmente termina en el capítulo 50. Busco si no se me pasó por alto un escurridizo capitulo 51. Aunque sé que no será así: este libro terminó tan intempestivamente como su autor. La última página es una caricia y un adiós. Jamás habrá un nuevo capítulo, jamás habrá un reencuentro. David Foster Wallace se ahorcó en el fondo de su casa el 12 de septiembre de 2008, y nunca más volverá a escribir. Pero la memoria permanece. Yo puedo estar seguro de que cada vez que abrimos una de sus obras, Wallace vuelve a latir. Nunca dejemos de leerlo; Wallace es y será para siempre.

  • Michael Finocchiaro
    2019-04-23 23:41

    I have been a little fascinated with David Foster Wallace since learning of his suicide on the blogosphere several years back. I have already written a little bit about my reading of some of his work and just happened upon The Pale King in the CDG airport on the way to Berlin. Perhaps it was just a funny twist of fate because the English book selection at Relais H in France tends to be something between the abysmal military fiction of Tom Clancy and the insipid modern novels pretending to be literature like the DaVinci Code. So, seeing a book by DFW jumped out at me and I grabbed it immediately in case it was just a mirage. It wasn’t. As opposed to Infinite Jest of which I still haven’t been able to get past the first 50 pages yet, The Pale King grabbed me immediately. I wrote somewhat recently that I was getting a little down thinking of the precipitous drop in reading in general and also about my own problems in having enough concentration to read fiction especially since having kids. Well, somehow, this particular book (540 pages I might add) didn’t let me go.In a nutshell, The Pale King talks about a myriad of characters that are all employed by the IRS in a Regional Examination Center (or REC) in Peoria, IL back in 1985. There is no plot or storyline, just a jumble of 1st person and 3rd person narratives and several chapters with only dialog. The style varies widely and keeps the reader on his/her toes all the time. At one point the book’s author jumps in on page 69 in §9 in an AUTHOR’s FOREWARD that is doubly or triply ironic. He claims that it is a fictionalized autobiography. I believed this text until I did a little wikipedia/googling and determined in fact that it was purely fiction. So the author was pretending to be the author pretending to write about himself. Kind of that peeling-an-onion effect in fact. There are fascinating pieces of this Foreward, particularly the story that he got the IRS job because he was completing various term papers for cash at university and got caught. He says that he was able to nearly perfectly imitate the style of the fellow student in order to cover the cheating. I found this particularly fascinating because as you read each chapter about the various characters, the voice completely changes and it could almost be written by an entirely different person. This all added an extra realism to this Foreward that was nearly creepy. The triple irony in my mind stems from the additional fact that despite this realism I felt, there are supernatural phenomena in the book (ghosts and levitation) that are fascinatingly uncomfortable to the reader.Some of the writing is incredibly hilarious. I laughed out loud in particular in §24 as he describes bureaucratic ineptness in excruciatingly funny detail – whether it be the ridiculous traffic problems to get into the employee parking lot of 047 (the IRS building), the lack of sidewalks, the utterly inefficient intake process…each of these reminding me of the infinite times I have thought many of the exact same thoughts sitting in traffic jams, driving through strip malls and parking lots, and having worked for four different companies of which two ginormous IT ones. His view is incredibly sarcastic and yet right on. As a writer, he dives into a depth of detail that adds to the pseudo-realism of the scene but especially heightens the comic effect by being so dead-pan.Some of the writing is excruciatingly painful. The description of the child in §36 that destroys his own spine in order to kiss every square inch of his body was particularly hard to read. Perhaps I missed it, but I am not even sure which of the employees at the IRS this disturbed childhood refers to. I even rescanned the chapter while I was writing this paragraph but couldn’t find any clues. In any case, the amount of detail of various contortionists through history and the medical detail on the impact of contortion on the spine and on human physical development made me very queasy as I read it. It was extremely well-written and one of the most original texts in the book. The stories of Toni Ware’s childhood and in particular the car accident which took her mother’s life were excellent as well.Sometimes the writing is pure bureaucratic observation of how folks work together and how managers thing. I thought that the description of Glendenning in §43 was incredibly perceptive. If I may quote a little of DFW here, “Mr. Glendenning could listen to you because he did not suffer from the insecure belief that listening to you and taking you seriously obligated you to him in any way”. If only a few more of managers that I know (and no, David, Bruno, and Adrian, I am not speaking of you if you are reading this) actually understood this. The book has many observations like this, but this one in particular stuck out for me as particularly true.Perhaps the most enigmatic chapter of The Pale King which captures almost all of the elements above (funny, painful, deep, complex in narrative, intimate) was the Drinion / Rand dialog in chapter §46. Here the gorgeous Meredith Rand divulges her personal story to the seemingly implacable Shane Drinion as he starts to levitate off his barstool. The dialog is very hard to describe (I erased about four sentences before writing this one) as it moves between the immediate situation of the two individuals talking, the subtext of their conversation, and the attention that each one is giving to the other and the perception of that attention. It is as if the dialog happens on about three or four planes simultaneously. At one point the subject of the conversation is the subject of the conversation and leads to this interesting observation: “‘Is liking paying attention the same thing as being interested in somebody?”Well, I would say almost anything you pay close, direct attention to becomes interesting'”. Much of this was like a snake eating his tail or perhaps how the contortionist from §36 would have written. And even more interesting, after about 70 pages, it ends as suddenly as it began. It was a strange, exhilarating read.I thoroughly enjoyed The Pale King. It is clearly one of the best, most readable works of DFW and I can only imagine what a mess must have been up in his head to have come up with so much twisted detail and have so many original ideas and yet boil it all down to 540 pages of well-researched text. I would bet that the posthumously published version of The Pale King is not all that different from what DFW would have edited together had he not committed suicide in 2007. What a loss for American 21c writing the loss of DFW was.If you want an introduction to DFW before taking the big dive into Infinite Jest, this is an excellent place to start. I wish I know why he was shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 2012, but no prize was awarded. Was it because he was no longer alive to receive it? Pity that he did not get noticed in '96 for IJ...I haven't read Independence Day but IJ is better than Sabbath's Theatre (a runner up in '96) and that is saying something because I adored ST by Roth as well (and reviewed it here on GR).

  • Greg
    2019-04-06 00:27

    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 little surprised at myself for reading it. I haven't been able to bring myself to finish the stories in Oblivion because of the finality I seem to feel hovering around finishing any of the DFW works that I had been saving for those long dry periods between his work when he died. Pale King I had the feeling would be the work that would forever linger unread on a bookshelf. Then I got the urge to read it as soon as it came out in paperback. I would read the paperback (thus buying the book new twice, which is fine, but I would feel even more uncomfortable reading the hardcover because of weird feelings I have towards the physicality of books and the admittedly arbitrary fact of a book having a one in the printing history located on the verso title page causing me to handle the book like it's a delicate object, worrying about any damage it might receive and being fearful of underlining the book or doing anything to it that does more than the minimal damage necessary to the book from reading it. If you are one of those heathens who reads a book and makes it look like it's been through a war with duct tape holding it together and the pages puffed out from dropping it in puddles and all of that, please keep your opinion to yourself about my admittedly arbitrary analness when it comes to certain books and their treatment). The paperback that I would have no trouble underlining in, marking up, writing notes and having a grand old time with. For three or four days I eagerly awaited the arrival of the paperback Pale King into the store. The book was in the warehouse at the start of the week (Tuesday) but didn't arrive in the store until the Bookazine delivery on Friday afternoon. I checked almost hourly during that time on Bookmaster to see if the book had arrived. I was ready for it (and I bought the book during my five o'clock break on Friday, a time I never buy books at, about an hour and a half after the book arrived in the store, but because I had promised to read The Night Circus for Karen's Reader's Advisory group read I didn't get to start the book until Monday, this caused me a certain amount of psychological discomfort, mostly because I was afraid my resolve at actually reading the book would disappear after actually owning the book for a few days if I didn't start it ASAP. I was fairly worried about this, but the worries ended up being unfounded (obviously)). And I read it. A few days later.--(I sat down to write this review a few days after I sat down to write the review a day or so after I sat down to write the review immediately following when I finished the book. Now I'm deleting just about everything I've written up until point, except for the very boring story above about how I came to read the book at the present time. The above story, in all it's stupidness is seriously what it's kind of like being in my head or spending anytime around me. I'm very uninteresting, boring and tedious, but most likely you don't know this because a) you don't actually have to spend anytime around me because or b) if you do spend anytime around me I don't say very much and keep the boring crap inside me. Seriously, is that story anything you would tell someone? And for me that was probably one of the more interesting things that happened to me during my working week (Sundays not included, that is the one day that is more interesting, but only because of Karen). Again, seriously, because this is oh so serious, why would I share that stupid story? I don't know. Maybe because I believe, like everyone else(?), that the daily minutia of my life is so important that it must be as captivating to others as it is to me? You know, sort of like everyone thinks that their dreams (the ones they have when they are asleep) are so interesting but they never really are that interesting to anyone you tell them to? Why flood the world with some more bits of non-essential information, why subject you to having to be exposed to this non-essential data and force you to shift through it to come to the point that you've just been exposed to some stuff that you didn't need to know about and now you are being exposed to even more non-essential data that is being gratuitously added to an already uninteresting mess. Is it some attempt for me to get your sympathy ("No, Greg you aren't boring, you're liked, I look forward to reading about the mundane details of your life, please share more."), or to try to be understood, to communicate in some way with some people from my real life and a handful of relative strangers? (To evoke some kind of empathy? To feel less isolated and alone and convince myself in someway that any of the stupid bullshit I feel is shared by others who are similar (even if paradoxically different) from myself*), or for some other reason. (I get the feeling...that what you're imparting might be unclear or uninteresting and must get recast and resaid in my different ways to assure yourself that the listener really understands you (504))** )--11:44 pm. Sunday April 15th, 2012.All of this stuff has been worked on Tax Day, one year after The Pale King was released. The story at the start of the review was written earlier in the week, but all of the cutting up of my worked on review, the notes and asides and general self-deprecating that I seemed to need to share in order to get to this point was done at various times during this evening. I need to write this review because it's looming over me, it's making me anxious/depressed and feeling like I never want to write another review again. I don't want to take these feelings with me when I go to visit my parents tomorrow, and I rarely write reviews when I'm at their house so I just want to get this done now. Besides it's fitting to finish this review on Tax Day, right?If you made it this far in the review and are looking for an actual review of the book you should just stop reading now. It's not going to happen. MFSO has written a very good review / thoughts on the book and I'd recommend you read (or re-read) his review in place of mine. I agree with a lot of what he says and he writes in a clearer manner than I do. Some of these chapters are just about the best writing DFW ever had published. Some of the chapters make no sense and I can only believe that they would have fit in with the overall structure of the book if it had been finished, or else not been included. I read the paperback copy (as I've already stated above), so I had the 'extra scenes'. I'm more than a little baffled about why the longish bonus scene about a man planning to take time off work to watch every minute of broadcast television for the month of May isn't in the actual book. It stars mostly characters that never appear in any of the other chapters, but there are quite a few chapters with characters that never show up again and which are wonderful creations that were probably going to be like the great one-off characters in certain Infinite Jest sections or else that might have been developed further if the book had actually been finished. I'd recommend reading those extra scenes. I'd also recommend reading the notes for the various chapters, they sort of fill in what the finished novel might have looked like (I was afraid maybe those weren't included in the hardcover version, but they are, phew). Since DFW's death I've been on some level looking for someone to take his place. Probably even before he died, in the years between the last time I read IJ and 2008 I was on the lookout for DFW-esque authors, someone to help fill in the time I expected to have to wait between any new work. I figured I'd have to be patient with him, great big works aren't written overnight. I've thrown the DFW-esque tag on quite a few people, sometimes in reviews and more often in my head while reading someone. For example while reading some of Zadie Smith's essays you could feel the DFW-ness to them, Adam Levin's use of words in certain stories in Hot Pink, the ballsy size and scope of his The Instructions. George Saunders with his sort of playfulness and weird world that could be other parts of the world that IJ takes place in. Jonathan Lethem in his essays, just to name a few, but there are more. DFW left a huge mark on the way people could write, what could be said in an essay, how a story could read. Even if all of these people weren't ripping him off, you can tell that they were liberated in some way by his influence. When DFW's writing is merely a memory, in between actually reading him and reading others I can see hints of him in others and say (out loud, in reviews or just in my head) this is like DFW and at the moment what I'm reading that reminds me of some part of something I'd read of him that is true, but only sort of. The thing is none of these people measure up to him, there is something so huge and powerful in his work that other people might have bits and pieces of it down, but they don't have what feels like the all-consumingness that DFW's work has for me (and this is fine, I would probably feel disgust in an author who was just blatantly ripping off DFW, sort of the way I felt during the start of Eggers Heartbreaking Work... (which wasn't a total rip-off but felt too much like someone going out of his way to capture the tone that DFW had), for example, I like that Adam Levin has so many DFW elements but that he still has his own thing going on, or that Zadie Smith is not a DWF clone but a really intelligent and great writer who also shares some of the sensibilities that he had (does this make any sense?)). I don't know what words to say to really explain what I mean by this. It's not just that he wrote big novels, or long stories but most of the time, or at least when he was 'on' what he was writing felt gigantic, like a whole world in itself, like something I could stay interested in and occupy for a long long time. For example, chapter 46 with the long conversation that is really a fairly uninteresting conversation, topic wise, between Drinion and Meredith Rand, could have been an entire novel and I would have loved it. The point of that example is that it isn't even a short chapter that should have worked, it should have been boring and trite, some office drones going out for Happy Hour drinks where two of them have a conversation that isn't on the surface all that interesting and probably shouldn't be a seventy page chapter but it works and it's engrossing and awesome and is just one example of what I love so much about him and how I can't think of anyone else writing who could do something like that and do it so well (Adam Levin in some of his Talmudic side stories of The Instructions might come closest, I'm thinking his Slip Slap / 9/11 back story specifically). Some critics of DFW have pointed out that at times he is just showing off how well he can do different voices, but that to me is one of his great feats, he can move through so many different interior worlds and get the words feeling like they are part of the damaged thoughts of people. That he can write all these different people and feel like he's writing from their perspective and not necessarily just as a narrator looking over his creations. I don't know what I'm trying to really say, except that he is unique and his writing isn't for everyone but for those who he does speak to, I don't think there is anyone else out there to replace him. He was just so fucking good and it because I'm a self-centered asshole I think it sucks that I'll never get to read another new great big work of his.... but at least we were left with this, flawed as it is for not being finished but still filled with mainly with amazing moments.Post-script?Ok, this review is a failure. I've made a fool of myself and excised whatever awfulness I'd been feeling about writing this review and I'm just going to post it as is. Consider this part a spoiler. It's a question about the book, it's not a big spoiler, but it's something that is built up to in one of the chapters. Consider it my own reading group guide question. (view spoiler)[In the very long Chris Fogle chapter, his father dies from a freak mechanical accident involving the door of a public transit train. Himself killed himself in Infinite Jest by re-engineering a microwave oven to work in a freak manner, with what can be thought of as an intentional malfunction of the door mechanism, and subsequent failure of the safeguards which should have not allowed the train / oven to still be able to function in the manner it did. What do you make of these two fairly prominent deaths of fathers in fairly grotesque manners and the viewing / coming upon the dead fathers in both cases by the son (which in both cases is a DFW-esque character (if you read IJ as I do to see Hal as a version of DFW)) (hide spoiler)]. *This was in mention to a delated part of the former review. I got lost while writing it though, but here it is:I can't remember where in the book these thoughts came from, but I'm certain that they must have been spurred on by something in the text, possibly chapter 19. We are no unique. We like to think of ourselves as unique and feel our pains and problems as being something unknown by others who are free of the doubts and fears and even good stuff that works through our brains, but we aren't. Everyone experiences mostly the same sort of shit. Well, no shit? Right? But the flip side is true, too. You are unique, everyone isn't the same, what's good for him isn't going to work for her. Blah, blah, blah. How do you reconcile this apparent conflict? (a)**Sorry, there were probably more reasons I was going to write there but my mind got really distracted while writing the stuff that falls under the (a) note from the above note. If I actually planned and worked on these reviews I'd probably not get into these messes, but at least in this reviews case I just need to plow through it and get it done. This review is causing me quite a bit of mental turmoil, and I feel like I need to get it done even though I also feel like more people are probably going to be paying attention to this review than others I write because I'm one of the outspoken fanboys of DFW, the fact is that I can't write this review. All of this nonsense is just hiding the fact that I can't get the shit in my head to make up coherent thoughts on this book that I really did love in parts, although not nearly as much as I've loved Infinite Jest or some of his other work. In my head right now I believe that no one will be reading by this point, I'm making the review difficult to follow, and this is in a 'footnote' which is a pretentious tool to use most of the time and in a review using the very limited html protocols allowed by goodreads it's basically a major pain in the ass for anyone reading the review to follow. So many things that I feel like I want to say I keep self-censoring. How do you write about DFW when the Great Big Awful Thing happened and it keeps showing up throughout the book. And how the GBAT made you not just sad because it happened but how it scared the shit out of you.(a) Why delete parts of the review if I'm just going to share them as notes? I don't know. I actually have been dwelling on this paradoxical situation of being essentially no different from everyone else vs being infinitely different / isolated from everyone else. I can't remember where in the book these thoughts started to grow, but it was in passages of The Pale King. The problem (in explaining, not in the philosophical / existential variety that this sort of paradox opens up) is that I can't get what I've been thinking about to come out in words that make any sense beyond a handful of boring platitudes that when put next to each other look stupid. The basic problem (as I'll try to lay out here, why not in the review? I don't know, I'm here right now typing is as good a reason as any) is:A) Everyone (assumption, I'm generalizing, but this is the way I see the problem) thinks that his or her awful mental states are unique to them. No one else feels the awkwardness that I do, the sadness, the guilt, the regrets or whatever is bothering a person at the time when they think this way.B) Everyone has these awful states. (Insert the good states too, although I don't think most people are as prone to feeling so unique while feeling really great about themselves (I realize that people in 'love' do, love is another state that feels totally unique and you can't imagine that anyone else has ever felt the way you do (another reason (if you can follow the jump I'm making in my head) to view love (romantic love) as generally a sickness / pathological problem).C) Pretty much all of your hopes / dreams / thoughts etc., i.e., internal states are actually shared by just about everyone.D) You are not unique. E) Major problems arise by believing everyone thinks and feels like you do. Part of being a mature person is realizing the differences between yourself and others, realizing that others have different feelings and acting in a way that doesn't force your own ways on to others. Children generally can't do this, adults are supposed to be able to. But what about C and D?F) At different levels (what are the levels? It would seem like this is the key to getting out of this problem) one would seem to need to realize that they are not unique, but be able to understand what it is that is shared among people and what is possibly shared but in different ways. I can't quite put this into words that make sense (this is part of the problem perhaps?). G) Is this even a problem? Is it only a problem for a certain type of person (who is thus unique at least as far as he or she is different from people who go through their lives without wondering about stupid shit like this)?

  • Ian
    2019-03-29 19:24

    Original review: May 10, 2011100 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 world within our gaze perceptively, sensuously and appreciatively. “The Pale King” might be the culmination of both his literary and philosophical endeavours. ReviewBecause of the length of my review, I have placed it here: is chapter 11, in case you get lost in the My Writings page.Earlier Fictitious ReviewHere is an earlier fictitious, more light-hearted review I wrote before finishing the novel: NotesI made copious notes while I was reading the novel.There are many issues that I have omitted from my final review, because the review would have just got too long.I have put my reading notes here: is an extract from the first section of my review:Some Perceptions in and about the StructureThe Pale King (TPK) is not a conventional linear narrative.It’s not really even a narrative or a story, in the sense that a number of events are described in a way that aggregates into something meaningful, once they are absorbed by the reader.So DFW did not really use the structure of the novel to play with time.However, I think there is a sense in which he uses the novel to explore and play with our perceptions or, at least, the way we perceive.There are 50 chapters, some of which are less than a page, others anywhere between 50 and 100 pages.It would be tempting to say that the longer chapters are more important, because of their length.However, ultimately, the importance of each chapter derives from its subject matter, no matter how long or how short.I don’t think it would be correct to speak of the chapters as short stories.They are definitely part of the one creative enterprise.Each chapter derives meaning from some or all of the other chapters.Individually, they are discrete. Collectively, they influence each other.They form a society that creates meaning.Individually, the chapters are verbal portraits.Collectively, they constitute pictures at an exhibition about 20th and 21st century life.Click here to read the rest of the review:

  • Darwin8u
    2019-03-30 18:37

    “How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.” ― David Foster Wallace, The Pale King 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 art. Their are other books I love for their soul. I love this unfinished, rough and beautiful novel for everything.

  • Kemper
    2019-03-25 00:34

    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 explains, what had been completed was too good to just put in a library where only scholars would read it, and if I ever meet Mr. Pietsch, I’m going to shake his hand and buy him a drink for helping to get this published. The book is about the examiners (a/k/a wigglers) at a regional Internal Revenue Service center in Peoria, Illinois, but there’s no real overall plot to it. It comes across as a series of loosely connected short stories. Which makes sense considering that Wallace wrote chapters out of sequence and left no detailed outline, but Pietsch also states that Wallace’s notes repeatedly mentioned that he wanted the book to be ‘tornadic’ in nature. Apparently he planned it to be a swirl of people and events that would randomly bonk the reader on the head until some kind of larger pattern emerged. Without the rest of the book, we don’t get the bigger picture, just the bonks, but almost all the bonks are fascinating. No surprise then that most of what is sticking with me about the book is random, too. In no particular order:* There’s a lot here about boredom and bureaucracy, but it doesn’t go in the direction you’d expect. While Wallace repeatedly explores the soul-crushing tedium of going through tax forms and the dull inner workings of the IRS, there’s no real raging against the machine going on here. In fact, Wallace almost seems to celebrate the focus required to do the job in the face of unending boredom and make it seem noble. One could argue that his point was that the majority of us waste our time trying to avoid being bored without accomplishing much so you might as well sit down and get something done.* I am going to change my name to Diablo the Left-Handed Surrealist even though I’m right handed and can’t paint.* The early chapter featuring Leonard Stecyk as the kid who is so helpful and charitable that everyone hates him is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. Impressive how Wallace was able to make the reader want to punch Leonard in the face during this portion, but later on turned him into a more sympathetic character who gets to shine in a crisis.* Like a lot of people, I think my favorite part of the book may be the long story of how Chris went from a self-described ‘wastoid’ with father issues to a guy who actively seeks out a career in the IRS after mistakenly sitting in on a class about taxes. * Wallace wrote himself into the novel, and then went to a lot of effort trying to convince the reader that what he/she was reading was actually a memoir disguised as a fiction for legal purposes. He recounts long discussions with lawyers and having to get a bunch of releases signed by various real people at the insistence of his publisher, and I was just nodding along with this part when it suddenly hit me that since Wallace had died before finishing the book the whole thing was an elaborate ‘Gotcha!’.* I was often listening to the audio version of this at work while performing a bunch of dull tasks. So I was listening to a book about people doing boring work while doing boring work. I got so into the audible book that I took the personally unprecedented step of getting the print version from the library while in the middle of it so that I could go back and look up some points.* Another chapter I found oddly fascinating was the part where beautiful Meredith Rand is telling the strangely literal Shane Drinion about how she met her husband when she was committed to a mental institution as a teenager for being a cutter. Drinion seems like he could have Asperger’s or some other kind of social impairment, but gets very interested in her story. This leads to a weird dynamic of him be completely tuned to her with no agenda of his own, and Meredith finds this kind of attention appealing. It was like Scarlett Johansson telling her life story to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory.* Creepiest part of the book was the section about a kid who decides to kiss every square inch of his own body and embarks on a long-term campaign of freaky contortions and lip extending exercises. That whole story just made me want to lay down with a bottle of ibuprofen and a heating pad.* The notes included at the end indicate that there was a lot that Wallace planned to write didn’t get to it. I find this one particularly interesting: “Drinion is happy. Ability to pay attention. Turns out that bliss - a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious - lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious things you can find (tax returns, televised golf) , and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Constant bliss in every atom.”I would have loved to read what Wallace could have come up with along those lines and the rest of what he had been planning. The Pale King is brilliant in a lot of ways, but it’s also a sad, sad read because most readers will be left haunted by the ghost of what could have been.

  • Mariel
    2019-04-13 23:39

    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 "universal" to me over and over again, like my reading it and getting it made it universal. The "I didn't know other people felt this way" and "I thought I was all alone" and feeling too familiar and then pleased at the recognition. It can prickle a bit like talking to someone who calls you on your shit and manages to sound generic psychic hotline lady (I've never called one of those)/cocky therapist (maybe because people are sometimes generic) and still be right enough to make you feel uncomfortable. I appreciated this feeling about The Pale King the most (maybe something else will get me later in future musings but for now this is it). Something I like to do is try to pay attention to mannerisms of other people, especially if they are around family. If I catch myself doing something someone else does that pleases me even more. I'm really into this self awareness stuff. Bordering the line between too damned painful and looking for patterns in behavior and what is like someone else. It got me when a character finds out that other people take lots of "breaks" when studying (here is a youtube clip from the Uk series Spaced of Daisy the writer taking any break she can think of - even cleaning!- to avoid actually working. That scene is the best depiction of this I've ever seen). The "I didn't know that other people did this". Leaving your own personal area of the familiar and then venturing into what's also familiar, but surprisingly so because you didn't know you would see it there. Chris the wastoid and his father with their controlled anxiety about not getting there on time. I've had those same exact train platform crazy paranoid fantasies right down to how the dad died. I didn't know anyone else was that crazy! When you are driving on the road are any other driver's paranoid that a woman in a house dress will step onto the road and you won't see her in time to stop? I go through a lot of what ifs. I love to trace mental trains and wonder what led to what. I love to imagine it could stop somewhere else. Chris talks about his shameful past, how his dad must have seen him with his fellow wastoid friends. The painful self awareness. The kind that can stop in time to not do anything about it and come back in time to keep you from accepting yourself enough to feel good. Chris's mental trains must go back a lot and without their '70s speed. I wish I could say I needed drugs to have those moments like Chris does. No weed. I felt that universality again reading it. Self conscious is right on. DFW knows. Two left feet in the mouth.Meredith's obsession with not being seen how she wanted to be seen and the talking and talking circles around the truth (that old cliche that's true) and doesn't get there because she probably talks about it too much (her husband was right that she wanted to be flattered, I felt). I haaaaaaaated Meredith for a good while. I liked her a bit more when she bothered to see if Shane Drinion was listening, like it mattered what he thought. I couldn't be judgmental after that, at least I didn't wish she'd stop talking any longer. There was no way she had solved her problem from six years ago when she was a teenager and married her husband the dying guard from the psych ward. She was too happy that her beauty could make a man cry and run away. What's the cure? Could it ever be talk? It was fascinating that Drinion didn't have my kind of context when I think I "know" the type and don't want to listen to the "I need to lose weight" spiel again when said person is twenty pounds lighter than I am. Who else could this chick possibly talk to? It would be interesting to not be "you", exactly, when approaching other people's shit. It would be a different kind of a sponge to soak up all the influence and shit in the world. Or facts. I'm not good at facts. I guess I'm like the anti-Shane (other than feeling just as clueless when faced with people talking). I'd be looking and then I'd have to compare for patterns. Probably not ever a cure, though. I don't have that much faith in the healing powers of talk. Scratching an itch, maybe.Their ending in the notes made me laugh and feel bad at the same time. I don't like having those cynical observations that a chick is with some ugly guy to feel charitable about herself. I mentally smack myself when I think something like that. That's being an asshole). Boredom is universal. Tedium is every day. Okay, I read this ages before I read The Pale King. I was expecting it to be different. I don't know what I was expecting but I was expecting it to be hard. Reading TPK to me felt like if you could sit down some place busy (or shut in like an IRS office?) and mind read. Like what if you didn't know what was going to be the important part and you had to process everything. Then the point turned out to be that you took in everything without the point. The boredom and the tedium wasn't what got to me. It was the spacing out and arriving at what feels like it could be important when you weren't really doing anything, like walking or tying your shoes, and you don't really know if it actually is important. I kind of just value that quiet of the thinking without trying, like it could be some kind of peace. I don't feel truly bored unless I feel like I'm trapped, though. Put me somewhere I can't leave and I'm going to be bored no matter what. What's hard is trying to make it all make sense to someone else. Trying to make something of worth out of talk. I didn't mind that it was unfinished. I liked the thinking about it parts too much.I started reading The Pale King during one of my I can't get interested in anything mood. TPK got me out of it because I read these instances of people not really doing anything but thinking like it could go anywhere. Just don't stick me somewhere thoughtless.Well, I felt all wise and thoughtful and shit while I was reading it, anyway.P.s. I forgot to mention that fans of The Pale King's hated benevolent little boy will want to read City Boy by Herman Wouk. I'd also recommend the film Barton Fink. I love this kind of story.

  • Lee
    2019-04-22 23:31

    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 novel, linked collection of stories, fragments, dialogues -- whatever you call it -- like a massive Snickers bar offered to all those famished for Mr. Wallace's particular sort of caloric content, really satisfied on micro and macro levels. Not really an office novel. More like a longer Brief Interviews with Hideous Men than a shorter Infinite Jest. A++ sequencing job by the editor -- seems like controlled pomo chaos instead of old-fashioned mess. Conflicts and thematic dealios are explicated by the author in the final "notes and asides" section: maturity/responsibility requires ability to pay attention, especially in the face of "boredom," which is really just an inability to pay sufficient attention -- and paying attention has a moral dimension. Apparently purposefully dull passsages come studded with easter eggs -- toward the end of a long dull footnote there's a "woodpeckerishly intensive round of fellatio" --- fellatio performed by an Iranian women who seems sort of like the Indian woman in "Freedom" -- wonder if Franzen cribbed her, or if he and DFW colluded to sexualize the long liquid hair of such women, or maybe as an inside joke re: their attraction to Jhumpa Lahiri? Minor magic realism: a character just barely levitates when he's immersed, paying serious attention to work or listening to someone. Also a pair of minor phantoms. Four major writers mentioned in the book as major writers a writer might aspire to be like are echoed throughout: Gaddis (dialogue onslaughts of JR), Perec (Life: A User's Manual -- attention to detail, structure, the name Sylvanshine echoes the name Bartlebooth), Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio -- portraits of an ensemble cast in the midwest), Balzac (ridiculous attention to detail? I haven't read enough to have much insight). LOLs a-plenty, often at revelation of a paradox (see essay on humor in Kafka, the bit about "A Little Fable"). Several dozen pages turned down, sometimes top and bottom corners turned in -- first time I've done that since Gilead.A systems novel -- like most of DeLillo or Kafka -- focused on individual/very much individuated lives (thanks to author's observations) inside a major faceless institution. Structurally, the book would've been loosely organized to have something to do with a yaw system -- that is, attention, responsibility, maturity are the rotor that turns the propeller that cuts through the wind of boredom, loneliness, excessive thought, and, as Shane Drinion demonstrates, enables levitation/flight (temporary transcendence). As noted early on in the book, "yaw" backwards is "way," which is the English word for "tao." For a 1200-word version of this impression, get the tenth edition of The Lifted Brow.

  • B0nnie
    2019-04-19 00:30

    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)[IRS Form 1040 US Individual Income Tax Return. Form 1040 Schedule A Itemized Deductions. Form 1040 Schedule B Interest and Dividend Income. Form 1040 Schedule C Profit and Loss From a Business. Form 1040 Schedule D Capital Gains and Losses. Form 1040 Schedule E Supplemental Income and Loss. Form 1040 Schedule EIC Earned Income Credit. Form 1040 Schedule F Individual Soil and Water Conservation Expenses. Form 1040 Schedule G Income Averaging. Form 1040 Schedules R & RP Credit for the Elderly. Form 1040 Schedule SE Self-Employment Tax. Form 1040-ES Estimated Tax for Individuals. Form 1040A US Individual Income Tax Return (Short Form). Form 1040A Schedule 1 Interest and Dividend Income. Form W-2 Wages, Salaries, Tips, and Withholding. Form W-2G Prizes and Winnings. Form 1099-MISC Non-Employee Compensation. Form 1099-DIV Dividends and Distributed Investment Income. Form 1099-INT Interest From Financial Institutions. Form 2106 Employee Business Expenses. Form 2106-EZ Unreimbursed Employee Business Expenses. Form 2119 Sale or Your Home. Form 2120 Multiple Support Declaration. Form 2210 Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Individuals, Estates, and Trusts. Form 2441 Child and Dependent Care Expenses. Form 3468 Computation of Investment Tax Credit. Form 3800 General Business Credit. Form 3903 Moving Expenses. Form 4255 Recapture of Investment Credit. Form 4562 Depreciation and Amortization. Form 4625 Minimum Tax on Preferences. Form 4684 Casualties and Thefts. Form 4726 Computation of Maximum Tax on Personal Service Income. Form 4797 Sales of Business Property. Form 4868 Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File US Individual Income Tax Return. Form 4952 Investment Interest Expense Deduction. Form 4972 Tax on Lump-Sum Distributions. Form 6251 Alternative Minimum Tax—Individuals. Form 6252 Installment Sale Income. Form 8283 Noncash Charitable Contributions. Form 8332 Release of Claim to Exemption for Child of Divorced or Separated Parents. Form 8582 Passive Activity Loss Limitations. Form 8606 Nondeductible IRAs (Contributions, Distributions, Basis). Form 8615 Tax for Children Under 14 Who Have Investment Income of More than $850. Form 8824 Like-Kind Exchanges. Form 8829 Expenses for Business Use of Your Home. Form 656 Offer in Compromise. Form 709 United States Gift and Dependent Transfer Tax Return. Form 851 Affiliations Schedule. Form 870 Assessment of Deficiency in US Income Tax. Form 870-AD Adjustment in Assessed Deficiency. Form 990 Return of Organization Exempt from US Income Tax. Form 990-T Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return. Form 1041 US Fiduciary Income Tax Return. Form 1041 Schedule I Alternative Minimum Tax. Form 1041 Schedule J Accumulation Distribution for a Complex Trust. Form 1041 Schedule K-1 Beneficiary’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, Etc. Form 1065 US Partnership Income Tax Return. Form 1065 Schedule K Partner’s Share Of Income, Credits, Deductions, Etc. Form 1120 US Corporation Income Tax Return. Form 1120A US Corporation Income Tax Return (Short Form). Form 1120 Schedule PH US Personal Holding Company Tax. Form 1120F Income Tax Return of a Foreign Corporation. Form 1120-ES Estimated Tax for Corporations. Form 1120S Schedule K-1 Shareholder’s Share of Income, Credits, Deductions, Etc. Form 1122 Authorization and Consent of Subsidiary Corporation to be Included in a Consolidated Income Tax Return. Form 2220 Underpayment of Estimated Tax by Corporations. Form 4626 Alternative Minimum Tax for Corporations (Including Environmental Tax). Form 7004 Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File US Corporation Income Tax Return. Form 8275 Disclosure Statement. Form 8832 Entity Classification Election. Form 9465 Installment Agreement Request. (hide spoiler)]§ The Forms? (view spoiler)[Chris Fogle - IrrelevantClaude Sylvanshine - Fact psychicMeredith Rand - Wrist-bitingly attractiveShane Drinion - Mr. XDr. Merrill Errol Lehrl - Systems iconLeonard Stecyk - "Complex hatred" Lane Dean - Christian complexToni Ware - Creepy eyes, dogsKen Hindle - "Type of Thing"Chris Acquistipace - "The Maestro"David Cusk - HyperhydrosisRichard ‘Dick’ Tate - Cluster-fuckerDeWitt Glendenning Jr. - Regional toadyRobert Atkins - Knows all, tells allMs. F. Chahla Neti-Neti - "The Iranian Crisis" Bob McKenzie - "Second-Knuckle" (hide spoiler)]§ What is The Pale King? There's a long answer, and a brief one: a book about several IRS examiners who process tax returns, looking for taxpayers to audit and yield additional revenue. Although this may seem like the least promising of plots, I promise it is very entertaining.a pale king§ Who is the Pale King? The "Pale King" is the nickname of the former director of the IRS in Peoria, Illinois (the one before DeWitt Glendenning Jr.), "And Desk Names are back. This is another plus under Glendenning. Nothing against the Pale King, but the consensus is that Mr. Glendenning is more agent-morale oriented, and Desk Names are one example." And, "Though it’s not exactly like before the Pale King. It got out of hand, there’s no denying."§ DT Max writes that the Pale King "was a synonym for the depression that tormented [Wallace]." Winston Churchill called this "the black dog".§ There are several literary allusions as well:- Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci - Revelation 6:8: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.- The Fellowship of the Ring: ‘What has happened? Where is the pale king?’ [Frodo] asked wildly.§ The David F. Wallace in the novel tells us that this is a fictional memoir. what follows is, in reality, not fiction at all, but substantially true and accurate. That — The Pale King is, in point of fact, more like a memoir than any kind of made-up story.I believe him. But...there's a large assortment of David Wallaces here: the author, and two characters with the name David F. Wallace. The blending of fiction and memoir also happens by giving many of the other characters some aspect of the author. The layers of fictionalized self-referencing in the "Author's Forward" is a literary game in which the author is holding all the cards, so to speak. It's up to us to decide if we want to play.Plus there’s the autobiographical fact that, like so many other nerdy, disaffected young people of that time, I dreamed of becoming an ‘artist,’ i.e., somebody whose adult job was original and creative instead of tedious and dronelike. My specific dream was of becoming an immortally great fiction writer la Gaddis or Anderson, Balzac or Perec, & c.; and many of the notebook entries on which parts of this memoir are based were themselves literarily jazzed up and fractured; it’s just the way I saw myself at the time.§ Another blending - or bending - happens in style and genre. Should I shelve it with satire? the magic realists? Perhaps with the historical novels (The Pale King is set in 1985, just having escaped George Orwell but on the cusp of a technological revolution). I could place it with sociological or anthropological studies. If I had a business shelf it could go there. Certainly in humour. Or fantasy? Philosophy? Politics? Paranormal? Psychology? Poetry?? Well actually in my library it will go on the shelf for white books. Near the blue ones. The theme of The Pale King is similar to Infinite Jest, if boredom is a similar theme to entertainment. To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it’s because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that’s where phrases like ‘deadly dull’ or ‘excruciatingly dull’ come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing’s pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly...but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places anymore but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airports’ gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkmen, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • MJ Nicholls
    2019-04-24 23:52

    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 subtleties of human interaction, the obsessively compiled data-splurge that engulfs the reader in euphoric waves, ADD depictions of humdrumness rendered so alive, thrilling and affecting as to make the reader shout with delight. Plus, in this novel, Brazil-like comic surrealism (levitation and business babies), light metafictive indulgence (insertion of scalier author minus middle name), and little vignettes of Beethovenian melancholy (the wrenching plight of the sweatiest kid in class). The longest chapter, ‘Irrelevant’ Chris’s monologue about his wastoid beginnings and his calling to the IRS, makes the biggest effort at trepanning the IRS psyche, w/o attendant mockery or knowingness. Second longest: the fictional Wallace’s entrance into the IRS, taking fifty pages for his bus to dock, spiced with unexpected footnoted fellatio and flash-fire trivia that’s almost interesting. Lastly, rounded female character Meredith Rand and a sane analysis of the problem of prettiness. All magnificent. Every sentence. No boring parts at all. Is this hyperbole? Perhaps. But wow. A better unfinished novel you will not read . . . only the pain of the author’s passing will diminish its impact.

  • Paul Bryant
    2019-04-04 20:37

    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 render to all goodreading DFW fans and fence-sitters alike:“The novel contains a mass of technical detail and jargon about tax collection; satire about bureaucracy; digressions on work, routine and boredom; miniature treatises on ‘organisational psychology, elementary civics and tax theory’; ghost stories; minutely detailed traffic jams; and long passionate descriptions of the acountant’s vocation. All this is executed in Wallace’s unmistakable style, with ultra-long sentences that in some cases cover more than four pages; footnotes; footnotes within footnotes; brackets within brackets; and many ‘cute self-referential paradoxes’. (One of the narrators is David Foster Wallace writing his memoir of working in the IRS, which he claims is 100% true, but obviously isn’t.) Plots and characters emerge from nowhere and disappear back into it. This is partly because the novel is unfinished… but Wallace’s other novels are also, by conventional standards, unfinished. Wallace, in short, is a fairly maddening writer. His career illustrates an intriguing paradox: that it is possible for an American novelist to have a mighty critical reputation and to sell books in large numbers – while being pretty much unreadable and indeed unread on a huge scale (I know only one person who actually claims to have finished Infinite Jest). And The Pale King seems to me like its predecessors to be fundamentally wrong-headed, a deeply unserious endeavour undertaken in a deeply serious fashion – or perhaps it is vice versa, I find it hard to tell.Which is not to say Wallace’s reputation is undeserved. On the contrary, I would say his almost certainly a genius… [great praise for his style follows]… but whereas the style is mostly an immediate pleasure in his nonfiction, his novels come replete with thich wodges of hyper-detailed, impenetrable prose up front, like keep-out signs. They seem to be aimed primarily at literature students or other writers, rather than your average paying customer. I read The Pale King in a week when as it happened I has practically nothing to do. And after some desperate struggling early on, I began not just to enjoy it, but in places to love it… but if I had read it for fun in the course of a normal life, snatching a bleary half hour before bed or on public transport, there is no doubt at all : I would have thrown in the towel around page 50.”

  • Jimmy
    2019-04-22 17:47

    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, and that particularly stormy and tumultuous period in which he wrote The Fragile, and subsequently crawled out of depression, alcohol and drugs, bulked up, made a comeback, and released a new album. And so that album now strikes seriously personal emotional chords within my being because I feel that I know what Reznor is getting at, even if the lyrics are comedically self-pitying, they're cathartic and bold, still-' Q. 'Yeah, a little off topic I guess. What I'm basically trying to say is that I just relate to him ... like I don't relate to Pynchon so much, or Gaddis, or Bellow ... maybe Mishima and Vollmann. Vollmann is complicated though, saying I relate to Vollmann risks sounding sort of pretentious. He translates the human condition well, but as far as being capable of relating to Vollmann as a person ... not so much. Anyway, Wallace just gives voice to how difficult it is to explain what's going on inside one's head. My own thought process works in a very similar manner to his. He seems to give voice to a lot of the anxieties and neurosis that I try to articulate to people sometimes, or maybe he just expresses the occasional failure in attempting to do so.' Q. 'You know, I really try to avoid reading the reviews. I guess I just don't care. I know that I like it, and a few close friends do. It's personal. Like, I don't even want to attempt to sound objective when talking about Wallace. There's just no point. I'm emotionally and cerebrally transfixed by his books.Q. 'Sure, that's going to be a focal point in a lot of the subsequent criticism. Already has really. I mean, they published a fucking commencement speech of his. But you and I basically know that it happened. He did it. He's not coming back, but thanks to Michael Pietsch, who I think did the right thing by working on releasing this material, we have a semblance of what he was going for. I say, it's best to just focus on the work at hand. Attempt to imagine what Wallace was going for with this piece, rather than try to diagnose his suicide.' Q. 'Honestly, the man was clinically depressed. All that I can say is this: I get it. Clinical depression is fucking horrifying. Like, in example: have you ever experienced total nihilism? Like, as in nothing? As in I feel nothing about anything right now, and I'm just emotionally and mentally numb and sort of inert and dead? Q. 'And that's just the thing. David struggled with every creative bone in his body to fight the depressed temptations of nihilism and apathy and self-gratifying cynical irony. I mean, he worked so hard to get away from it. One thing that I pulled from the first half of the book is ... like, look, nihilism is many things, but it most certainly is not cool or fun or hep. It's an awful, life-defeating, soul-murdering cognitive phenomenon. People need to fight that urge, and life, and well, the various like soul-murderingly dull jobs that most people come across in the span of said life, will test ever fiber of your earnestly engaged being. David's books all seem to suggest that we fight that urge to not care. It's hard work. He taught me that. One of the most valuable life lessons I'll ever fuckin' learn. Q.... 'Well, it's unpleasant to say the least. Personally speaking, I wake up certain mornings, and possibly due to how boring sobriety has made my life seem, feel nothing about my life. So much to the point at which, yes, it does seem like a rational decision for me to simply eliminate my own map. I doubt that I will, but speaking as a depressed person, I understand how unbearable that can be. Add anti-depressants to the mix, and one's head can, chemically speaking, turn into a fucking nightmare. It just breaks people down sometimes. I've felt numb all day, but that's another story.' Q. 'Yeah, I miss him almost like I would a real friend. There is a part later in the book ... another vignette which illustrates the character Steyck's pathological niceness and diligence. It's sort of a drawn out, intensely morbid yet hilarious joke. The joke itself is sort of like black humor on steroids. It's so dark and sardonic, yet sympathetic and brilliant and basically hilarious, that no one but Wallace could've written it. And as I sat in my room on the couch, reading this part in the book, I sighed, this deep melancholy sigh, and sort of just intoned out loud, "Oh Dave, this is it, huh?". And as sad as this little moment was, it was just so richly imbued with gratitude and admiration and a generally warm feeling of fondness for his sense of humor and originality. I was upset, yet simultaneously sort of comforted by that moment.' Q. ' ... ' Q.'I mean, generally speaking, it's about human boredom, that, and the remarkable ability that certain human beings have to basically immerse themselves in the real-world epitome of dullness and tedium. He used the IRS; the culture of "wigglers" and CID agents as an example.' Q.... 'I think it's pretty brilliant, really. And after reading the material that Pietsch had arranged, I get the impression that Wallace had such elaborate intentions for this book. Even in it's unfinished form, it's still massively impressive.Q. 'It is similar to his previous stuff, thematically and otherwise. The unfortunate thing is that it seems like he really hit this peak in his strengths as a storyteller and narrator before the suicide. There is a certain laid-back cadence and rhythm to his prose. It's just so casual yet engaging. I mean, a lot of people seem put off by the sheer length of some of his sentences, and while I'll totally concede to them being sort of dense, they're really not that ... 'difficult'? I dunno, again, that's more like me trying to defend Wallace's writing and justify his cultural relevance, which, as I hinted at before, I just don't care to. I know that I like it.' Q. 'Well, it's fiction; these are all basically just gut reactions and opinions anyway. With most novels, short stories, etc, I like play around and attempt to put them in their respective historical context and everything, listing the flaws and strengths of the plot and all that, but in the end, it's just a drawn out way of saying either "I really like this", or "I really dislike this".Q. 'Okay ... ' Q.'Apparently, Wallace was working as a GS-9 public sector employee in the early 80's, which I guess was in order to pay off his tuition from Amherst? I believe it.' Q. 'Yeah, there is an author foreword ... about eighty pages into the story. It's done very tastefully, but taking the incompleteness of the work into consideration, it might look dubious to some.' Q. 'Of course that came to mind. I just think that it's a cheap way of explaining why it's there. I mean, Wallace had such a keen perspective on all of the common tropes of post-WWII, 'postmodern' fiction, that it just seems a little silly to imagine that he was naive enough, especially at this point in his career, to lazily fall back on such a common self-insertion. It could be argued that the enormous mindfuck of a legal conundrum that writing a memoir about being a GS-9 IRS employee must be, led Wallace to avoid the straightforward memoir format, and attempt to explain why he was seemingly blending fiction and reality. It's all just too difficult and painful to theorize about though. Who knows what he really had in mind? Who knows if he even wanted that part in there? Again, it seems irrelevant at this point. I have total faith in the fact that it would have been great ... even better than it already is.'

  • Szplug
    2019-04-11 00:45

    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 what was transpiring on the page; I forged near zero connexions with any of the characters receiving a fruitful degree of page time; and, most prominently in the retrospective gaze, not once did I crack a chuckle, indeed rarely became aware of a smile having formed amid the flow of words, let alone finding myself reduced to helpless, tear-pissing laughter as so frequently proved the case with the set piece hilarity of Wallace's wonderful second novel. Which is all to say that on every level The Pale King made for a muted textual passage, a subdued still life as set against the boisterous and carnivalesque roller coaster of the Jest pulled upon an ONANist world.Not that I greatly minded the difference in the moment, since I was, for the most part, enjoying what I was ingesting at a steady rhythm; but that kind of somber progression built upon its very essence, such that, when I had turned the final page, I set aside this pieced together, final novel from Wallace with a numbness in lieu of the exhausted exhilaration that coursed throughout my frame at the completion of its younger kin. And the very first thought which pushed through the jumble and announced itself was a question: Have I lost the capacity to be dissolved within a novel? It's an odd and plaintive query to have formed, but one perhaps long gestating and brought to the forefront by the changes that have taken place in how I consume books these days. With IJ, the act of reading was one of immediacy, an attunement with story alone; whereas I find that, some four hundred-plus reviews later, I currently make my way through a book with a degree of detachment, analyzing what's before me, making comparisons, taking note of phrases, characters, events, connexions; finding flaws and distractions where previously existed nothing but brushed-aside niggles. I am now ofttimes composing a review as I'm reading, when the old method had no concern for the critical apparatus ere the entirety had been laid to rest. It's not a case of better or worse, but simply different—and I've been circling around that difference ever since. What's more, the lack of firm answers—and troubling nature of the question—has been part of what's blocked me from assembling words into a coherent review. Books are all that I have left. And if the trade is one of a better understanding of any single work, both as an individual work of art and a component of a literary whole, for that unconcerned enthusiasm that used to rev up near the redline, it is enough to give me pause. Which is all of a one with the rather fragmented nature of the following: whether it all adds up to anything or not, I've got to purge myself of The Pale King, that I can move on to different fictional pastures.I believe that a considerable part of this surprisingly somnolent state was engendered by the fact that I was much more aware of the author as a person—IJ was the very first thing by Wallace that I read, whereas my entry into The Pale King had been preceded by a number of the late author's essays and short stories, as well as a greater immersion within and grasp of his importance to a broad swathe of the reading public; and, of course, permeating it all is the sad reality that he has passed from our world, that a man whose energies were channeled that he might explicate the myriad ways in which we suffer—however inane we deem the roots to be—and how that knowledge could lead to an extension of our humanity, a willingness to commit and dare to be hurt, an opening limned to the spiritual element that resides within every single fiber of an otherwise deadened and deadening materiality, the outreach and connexion available as an ameliorative egress from a suffocating solipsism, could not himself endure another lived moment. That knowledge somehow carried into The Pale King as a tactile disquiet; I had trouble absorbing the succinct opening chapter, with its restrained request to read these. Oh, I would: but accompanied by a sense of the finality and, ultimately, the loss of it all.You cannot get away from the fact that The Pale King exists as Wallace's long-time editor, Michael Pietsch, pieced it together; it's impossible to know what the late author would have amended or discarded, reworked or introduced, had he lived to see it through to completion. What's been given us is a series of chapter-length vignettes of varying length, temporal reference, and point-of-view, centred around a group of IRS workers in Peoria, Illinois, in the mid-eighties—and including David Foster Wallace himself—of whom a select number display unusual aptitudes and talents that lend themselves, upon one side or the other, to a looming showdown between an IRS old guard believing in the vitality of the human element within its bureaucratic structure, and the incursion of a well-connected team of adepts determined to march the service into the modern era by computerizing, automating, and standardizing its money-assessing and -gathering mechanisms. Operating in tandem with this disjointed IRS theatre is an exploration, exquisitely, almost lovingly undertaken, of the tedium of existence, particularly within the sclerotic confines of a bureaucratized routine, wherein the passage of time is stapled to a series of movements of ordered minutiae both known and capable of being perceived running, in an unattenuated chain, into a second-, minute-, and hour-handed future intuited unto an enervating degree of precision. That Wallace strained to reproduce the thin substance of tedium within the procession of words is absolutely remarkable, and the more so in that, for myself at least, its draining nature was conveyed to perfection while yet never affecting me as regarded the chore of making my way through one thickly measured paragraph after another of that very art. In a moment of pure genius, one of the benumbed IRS workers, Lane Dean, Jr, pictures himself running out into an empty field, flapping his arms all the while: releasing subdued energy? Attempting lift-off from a world of appalling existential demands? Finding within absurdity the existence of a vital human release valve that might allow joy, however bruised, to inflow within the emptied spaces? All of the aforesaid? It's a bit of authorial leavening magic that almost snaps on a page packed to the brim with monotonic and trudging words. The same Lane is also privy to an appearance by the phantom of the Peoria office, a spectral presence summoned when the depths of tedium have been plumbed with such concentration that a level of transcendence is achieved. The ghost proceeds to discourse to a stricken Dean upon the etymological roots of the word boring, having incorporeally discerned its birth within a newly arisen industry and its pressed servant, mass man; a linguistic representation of a drilling into, a hollowing out, worked against the human soul even while its entombing body performs the same actions upon inanimate matter. Being stretched upon the rack of time is, of course, an experience humanity has always possessed itself of—but Wallace here gives a nod to its modern refinements, wherein one is no longer a hunter, a gatherer, nor a farmer, but rather one who simply endures.Throughout the book, but particularly within the first score of sections, Wallace revealed himself as a writer at the height of his powers. In particular, §8, in which we are introduced to Toni Ware, a quiet and early-steeled young girl living a peregrine existence with her raw-living mother, which meant enduring a steady succession of brutal, coarse, leering men all twitchy with violence and lust, eying the child not as a figure to be cared for or protected, but exploited for their own undisciplined needs, is breathtakingly good. You could have placed it within, say, Denis Johnson's Already Dead, at any point, and it would mesh imperceptibly with the whole. Each of the (regrettably few) times she made an appearance, I was amazed. Having survived a pubescence of routine exposure to insanity, immorality, groping, and blood, she emerges as perhaps the sole character whose dysfunctions are not self-agonizing. Early inured to suffering and boredom and existential anxiety, Toni seems coldly and clearly aware that life is neither promised nor meant to be easy—and when she acts, she does so quickly, efficiently, evincing few regrets or hesitations. Surrounded by sections packed to the brim with self-doubt and self-recriminations, Ware is ice enfleshed; her way of living is linear, not circular. Jack Benny's hardly the man to bring her down.Which leads to §22, the longest section of The Pale King and, in many ways, its greatest. It's a manner of bildungsroman narrated by an employee of the Peoria REC—a former wastoid going by the handle 'Irrelevant' Chris Fogle—who has taken the request to speak about himself to heart in a way nobody could have been prepared for. It's glacially-paced, peppered with a steady stream of hasty and formulaic qualifications, that the repeated attempts by Fogle to reach deep into the generalized banality of his young, cool-seeking, drug-imbibing, aimlessly-drifting life as the son of a father who always seems to be eying him with disappointment and ridicule, and a mother whose mid-life crisis leads to a lesbian relationship that terminates her marriage, and draw a measure of profundity from that life experience, might not appear so sincere as to be worthy of dismissal or mockery. In the story's unfolding Fogle comes to view his deceased father, and remorse-stricken mother, in a new and fulsome light, trying to piece together where they came from, why they lived as they did—which leads him to an admiration for how his father refused to let recurring disappointment derail him from the responsibilities and demands required of the choices he had made. To the question that torments the modern generation—Am I happy?—Fogles' father answered with a shrugged Whatever. Towards the end Fogle describes how he awoke from his wastoid slumber via a transcendent experience with a Jesuit accounting professor. Having come across this figure through an erroneous understanding of college architecture, Fogle is awoken to the potential for fulfilment within the world of an ordered reckoning of the mathematical figures that render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. A man who seems relatively content with his lot in a life of organized tedium, Fogle's is the first, and strongest, inclination of the potentials within a stultifying boredom for pushback against modern malaise. It's a part of an understanding at play in The Pale King—addressed superbly in §19, a dialogued discussion of US politics in the mid-eighties—that the end for modern civilized man cannot be, perhaps should not be, to live a life of ease without test or suffering—for such will breed its own antithesis. That Wallace is so well-equipped to depict those tests, that suffering, is one of the strands of irony within, and which, of the latter, the author had previously stated as being both a harmful force for a member of postmodern societies and yet almost impossible to extricate oneself from.Other reviews have excellent summaries of the various sections, which serve to either introduce, often via childhood glimpses, the various personalities involved in the looming IRS internal struggle, or their aligning of means and ways in setting the stage for its undertaking. Wallace tries his hand in a variety of forms, from page-turning subsumption within boredom of a near divine essence, to nightmare panels of voiced chaos and vignettes of a quiet that hum with humor and/or menace. But there's a reason I gave the book four stars, and I'd like to try and get a handle on that below. And be warned: if you thought the above was an impressively portentous amount of pud-pullage, what follows is sure to leave all the came before in the dust.So it is that everything was trucking along swimmingly until §24, wherein the David Foster Wallace earlier incarnated inside The Pale King—a reflection of the author's substance, not his essence—makes a lengthier appearance, narrating his arrival in Peoria, excruciatingly stretched car journey to the REC, and confused introductory tour of the facility by an attractive Persian known as The Iranian Crisis. I was so utterly absorbed in the Wallacian strength and shine of what had come before—particularly the lengthily and patiently unfolded §22 mentioned above—that the sudden intrusion of Wallace, very meta, very ironic, very purposively comic, jarred me out of that bemused reverie to a degree that I resented. Neither because of its quantity nor its quality—the former was no problem, the latter attendant in abundance—but because of the tone. In the fictive state of mind I had attained up to that point, §24 had no place. As an IRS-themed essay, it would have been marvelous; as a section of The Pale King in its pieced-together existence, in my opinion it simply does not belong. Doesn't fit. Shatters the glass so beautifully set into place, piece by piece, in all that had come before. I'm not normally a stickler for these kinds of things, but it honestly felt to me like an intrusion, a lack of commitment to, or belief in, what had come before: almost as if Wallace felt he needed a tried-and-trusted to glue the whole together. Now, that plaint is directed at this version of The Pale King which the author had no control over—perhaps he would have removed his self-narrated parts. And maybe I'm just digging for a chest that doesn't exist: all I know for sure is that §24 snapped me out of a book-slung reverie, jolted me sufficient that I never quite attained the same degree of fused comfort afterwards.Which might explain my otherwise inexplicably edgy response to §46, one of the longest sections of the book and which transpires almost entirely inside of Meibeyer's Bar, a drinkery popular with the REC crew, and wherein we are privy to a remarkable interlocution between Meredith Rand, the IRS resident hottie, and Shane Drinion, an artless, perhaps autistic young man with a penchant for speaking a carefully- and thoughtfully-arrived at truth. Meredith, intrigued by Shane's candid persona, unloads upon him a voluminous tale of how she met her aged (and dying) husband when he counselled her during her admission to the Zeller institute, a stay occasioned by the acceleration of her habit for cutting herself. The story, and the characters, were great: what began to eat away at me in the course of reading, and the more in considering it all afterwards, was how Wallace configured it: Meredith, having deep-rooted insecurities about her beauty being the only thing men value in her—and, at a deeper, darker level, the only quality she believes she possesses that is worth offering—cannot achieve a cathartic transcendence from her lengthy unburdening if she suspects the man opposite is maneuvering within it for a pass. As luck would have it, Drinion is incapable of abrading her suspicions at any of the levels she is probing. And that came to strike me as too pat, too convenient; that Wallace used this paradigmatic male, as per Meredith, that he could tell what he was interested in—her story—without having to bother with the complexities and difficulties of crafting ordinary, real people, with all of their hidden agendas and non-copacetic traits—would perforce need to have that tale pried out by means of entwined, messy, sometimes argumentative or hostile or misunderstood conversation, instead of a lopsided, narrative outpouring. In other words, it speaks to us, but only of an us who are nearly non-existent archetypes. It struck me, both in the moment and then stronger subsequent, as taking the easy way out. Abandoning an opportunity for deep revelations as against more of a bout of armchair story-dumping by controlling all of the variables.Sound ridiculous? Well, that's how unbalanced and interiorized I had become by that point in the story, perhaps dragging far too much of what I (mis)understood from Wallace's fantastic essay, E Unibus Pluram, and believing, in this unfinished labour of love, that he was going to use his mature authorial skills to take me to a different, irony-shedding level. So I was chewing on this one particular nugget of disappointment—surrounded by copious amounts that I loved—working to mine it of something profound, something stirring, perhaps in the process revealing myself as displaying a better ability to think through fictional works. Snagged on a rock and concentrating upon it, at the expense of the gorgeous waters, and riverine scenery, that surrounded me otherwise. And then, blossoming from within a frustrated discontent, the dawning awareness that Wallace had a purpose in this alignment of gorgeous and garrulous young woman opposite a male counterpart incapable of using her loquaciousness as a tool of attempted seduction, or even derailment via sexual fascination shrink-wrapped within fear. Rightly or wrongly, I've come to believe that I had been overlooking the fact, as Wallace most certainly did not, that life is abundant with minor travails that develop an existentially gravitational mass; that the shallowest cuts, when accumulated, are enough to fell us on the quick. That we are so often ultimately brought low by the combined weight of otherwise trivial disappointments, fears, desires, and hatreds—and that the knowledge of their insignificance tends to rendering us helpless to address them at the root until they've become terrifyingly daunting, rooted like a mountain—is addressed by the author through their revelation, in their minute composition, within scenarios oversized in every way. Being put off by the unrealistic nature of a Wallace segment, or believing he should be able to move beyond mining the humor and absurdity into a steady gravitas, is to demand the man address something beyond that which he desired to. With this scene in The Pale King we peel away the grossly-sized whole that me might espy the thousand cuts that led to the (near) death of something dear and vital within Meredith. In other words, I've accepted that this was a case of wishing the author had written a different novel, which is simply a futile way to go through literature even when it isn't a posthumously-assembled work.And which may all be another generous dollop of Sastrean horseshit. After all this time entangled within the book, its marvels and mishits, magnificence and miscues, I can no longer tell. But here's the thing: every single day, when I arrived home from work, I took in the overabundance of pagewise choice immediately at hand, of which at least a dozen titles were competing against The Pale King—and yet every single time it was the book I picked up, and after but a second's consideration. If I experienced little giddiness within, it was there upon each renewed entrance; and so while it may be that I wasn't, in fact, dissolved within the novel, I am still dissolved, nightly, in reading. And in that losing of myself, I'm still finding all kinds of amazing, life-worthy things. So how about that?

  • Nathan
    2019-03-28 17:26

    "'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: 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 work but an infinite web of possible works. The Pale King as we know it is, in the end, just one of these, one possible iteration. There are many years of life left in these pages. I hope other readers of the archive experience something like the joy and wonder and despair and unending strangeness I’ve felt, swimming around in another person’s thoughts for a few months."[Thanks to Friend Geoff for bringing this to my attention.]And for folks with an archival bent, here is a blog from the Ransom Center, avec photos: and Gentlemen, I implore you, this interrupted masterpiece was on its way to join other 20-years-in-the-writing novels of the late-20th/early 21-st century -- The Tunnel, JR, A Frolic etc, Women and Men, (something from Mr Vollmann, certainly), etc. What remains are a few crumbs and a clear idea that what our friend Dave had set before himself to accomplish would not be so terribly simple or easy to bring off. The crumbs that remain are delicious.Re: The Pale King as a paean to Boredom. For better or worse the book is not boring. In the philosophical wars of the 20th century Dave was clearly on the Wittgensteinian side, but it is from the other side, from Martin Heidegger, that we find a full treatment of the experience of boredom which ought to supplement the thematic material of The Pale King. See Herr Heidegger's The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Had Dave been familiar with this work maybe -- just maybe -- The King, Pale, may have gotten itself more fully completed? Wishful what-iffings. . . .Damn to mourn the loss of such a fine voice, a true believer in fiction, a rare human being.

  • Sofia
    2019-03-30 21:44

    The Demon, Engulf'd in Flames¹They were killing my friends — Audie MurphyMy mother was (t)rapt in a maieutic conversation with a temporarily bankrupt friend, who has since again become a multi-millionaire, whom my parents had allowed to crash at our house until he was able to get back on his feet, his having a penchant for starting from scratch, considering themselves to be to him beholden on account of his having provided my father with employment soon after the latter had immigrated to the United Kingdom, appearing to me to like having him around on account of his aptitude for achieving economic success through conceptualism, a maieutic conversation about just this aptitude, my mother galvanized, having enjoyed a limoncello, my being unable to share her enthusiasm on account of harbouring enmity toward her tutor. She asked me whether I’d be willing to burn an artwork with her, to which I asked which, having assumed it to be that inspired by her having witnessed my deterioration away from my parental home, but instead watching horror-struck as she reached under the television in order to disinter The Demon², which she tore, hunched over before me, shielding it from my grasping hands, deaf to my stunted entreaties, having resolved to comply with her father’s wishes, feeling herself to have been freed from its clutches, set to make him proud. I told her that I would destroy my favourite of her paintings in retaliation, a treble clef ensō she’d gifted to me. She told me to go right ahead. I went to the kitchen and took the largest knife we own and charged upstairs with it in hand. The painting in question had previously fallen behind one of the bookshelves in my room and, try as I might, I was unable to reach it, unable to shift the bookcase, having briefly considered but decided not to remove the books one by one to reduce its weight. I went then instead to my parents’ room, after having told my mother what I’d intended, and removed the shunga-inspired erotic painting of my father and her from where it had hung above their bed, and proceeded to cut at it with the knife, bearing down with as much of my weight as I felt was safe, the blade bending against the wood which is her favoured support medium, which prevented me from making only the finest of scratches. I soon stopped, spent, not having considered the possibility of snapping it underfoot, though my performance had felt empty from its start. When I’d come downstairs my mother asked me whether I’d done what I’d intended, was I proud of myself, and I told that I’d been unable to do much damage. I wrote a message to one of my two best friends, neglecting to mention what I’d done after she’d torn the portrait, excited at the prospect of writing a lengthy message to a girl with whom I was infatuated at the time, detailing what had transpired, this story that I’d lived, this excitement inspiring me to decide to go downstairs and apologise to my mother, offering to help her with this immolation, wanting to live the story through to its end, and we reconciled almost immediately, her listening as I provided an ad hoc enumeration of reasons for having refrained from doing what she’d just done, when in fact I treated it as his distilled essence, archetypicalizing him, ignoring his having by all accounts found some measure of happiness with a woman who was not my grandmother, treating his step-daughter as his own, proud of my mother, whom he saw for the first time after the divorce only before her departure to university, but with whom he continued a detailed correspondence until his untimely death. I treasured it as an object of terrible power, saturated with meaning, a summation of all that was wrong with him, obsession and depression, image, icon. I told her that I considered it to be just as strongly tied to my present crises, though he’d died before we’d had a chance to meet, but that it was a thing of the past, a successful exorcism, a victory, that I felt destroying it ascribed undue power thereto, that it had been a gift to me specifically, that as it was simply, and in its infernal majesty, a work of art, it had no human executor, choosing inaction, which had in fact long been a problem in other spheres. I told her that I wished only that she’d acknowledged how much it meant to me, my measure of agency in the matter, that we’d talked about it. I saw within him, as within a former friend of my mother's who had shrunken down into his internet avatar, what I felt I'd been heading toward prior to entering my first relationship. After some halcyon days therein, I continued to decline. I was, then, at something of a crossroads. We went together to the garden and put the scraps on the barbecue grill, setting them alight, lighting a cigarette therefrom, which we shared as we laughed, hopeful before some uncertain future. The Demon burned well, and was soon ash. ¹I have already written this story, in another form, for some of the people I love. It feels spent. Writing it is a chore. I no longer feel compelled to share everything that I’ve shared with these people with those whom I let into my heart. The words I re-read seemed to have been written by someone completely different, but that’s okay. ²I travelled to Azerbaijan in the summer of the year before last in order to meet with relatives of my mother whom I’d never seen in the flesh, primarily to find out as much as I could about my maternal grandfather from his sister, my heritage, my right, in order to, potentially, turn these revelations into stories, or weave them into others. The Demon in question was the culmination of an increasingly dark series of drawings of the eponymous protagonist of the poem by Mikhail Lermontov, in whom he saw himself, the both of them, his having greatly admired his oeuvre, having his heroes, unlike myself at the time, everyone an adversary, modelling himself, to some extent, on Pechorin, the protagonist of A Hero of Our Time, repeatedly transcribing his poetry, in order to better appreciate it and to influence his own, little of which he produced, except in letters, which are beautiful, written in his signature baroque calligraphy. He published nothing in his lifetime, leaving behind a novel, barely begun, which I’ve yet to see. He ridiculed my grandmother’s success as a pianist, seeing virtue only in the composition of music, whilst resenting her success, hitting her, consumed by jealousy, harbouring antiquated views on the position of women in society, having even hit his sister, after which she refused to speak with him for a year, within whom he’d created himself as he’d wished to be seen, wished to see himself, wished to wish to be, a tragic figure of infinite potential, mine having often considered suicide for this very reason. Though I may well be projecting, I believe the feelings of artistic and intellectual inadequacy which he shared with me to have been in part resultant of the social ostracism he experienced on account of his being of mixed Armenian and Azeri ancestry. The morgue attendant who showed his sister his body told her that his was the most beautiful corpse she had ever seen, even whilst emaciated, sad, but beautiful. I have the photograph of me that he had on his bookshelf here with me. As I bade farewell to his sister and her family at the airport I kissed her on the forehead and said that I would live, as she had urged me, for myself, for him within me, and for the world entire. I brought back with me two volumes of his edition of the collected works of Lermontov, all that remained from his son having sold his possessions off in order to fund his alcoholism, these volumes heavily annotated, smelling like his apartment, giving them to my mother, who read them avidly. I wished I could save him in some sort of time machine*. I wished I could allow him to see me as I am now. *I recently detailed what I’d learned from my mistakes over the years, vis-à-vis my relationship with writing, to a friend of sorts—this qualification on account of my finding it difficult to let people in, for various reasons—who had come up against obstacles similar to those which I believe I’ve overcome. He told me that I couldn’t possibly have any idea how much I’d helped him. I resented him this, that he’d had someone like me, feeling I’d created a competitor. I no longer feel this way.Review ForthcomingYou know you're down in a the dumps when you find yourself reading Blood Meridian to cheer yourself up. I can only describe my feelings by the metaphor, that, if a man could write a book on ethics which really was a book on ethics, this book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world. — Ludwig WittgensteinReview Forthcoming"Gentlemen, you are called to account."This, by the way, was what I listened to as the book began to wrap up, starting with §46: The conversation between Meredith Rand and Shane Drinion in §46:

  • Nick Black
    2019-04-01 00:42

    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 conversations i've endured over the years (save the whole asexuality thing; i live rather more, for better or worse, on Orin Incandenza's "Excitement-Hope-Acquisition-Contempt cycle of seduction"). that one hit hard, all the more for making me burst out laughing and wonder at the precision. remember that terrible drudgery at the end of Infinite Jest, where -- amidst all the chaotic, gleeful cacophony of that book's "conclusion" -- we have shitty stupid kate gompert wasting a dozen pages in a terrible kate gomperty conversation with remy marathe? and you're like, DFW ol' boy, you ought know better than to try this much dialogue, especially involving a girl, because let's be frank you don't have clue one how they work (though i'm sure you dropped panties like a tsunami. the two seem related, but not equivalent, arcana), well holy snapping duck shit, he came back and knocked it out of the park. well done. anyway, those ~40 pages could do for aspergers what rain man did for autism, and i need new snappy catchphrases to replace "15 minutes to wapner" and "i'm an excellent driver."loved the irs technical details, though they didn't really add much to the book itself (he did a better job in IJ with this stuff), and knowing DFW half of it's probably wrong anyway. which, yes, that most annoying trait of his is on full display in this work. two lines about programming, both of them utterly nonsensical. something about "the octal machine code didn't work as well as hexadecimal" really got me. this is not only something no computer scientist would say; it's something no mathematician would say. it's frankly something no educated high schooler ought say (yes, if you don't know math of this simplicity, you are uneducated and will not convince me otherwise). no wonder Everything and More was such a deeply embarrassing crapfest. frankly, i begin to wonder whether DFW was half as brilliant as IJ and his essays regularly made him seem to be. no doubt he was a very, very intelligent and well-read man, but... he not only fucks up just about everything he says about numbers/technology, but he says a tremendous amount about them. he'll go on for pages about how beautiful and mind-blowing math is, but actually pays so little respect or attention that he's not merely inaccurate, but "not even wrong." there's no way he'd have accepted this kind of shit in the form of grammatical or usage mistakes in his students' essays; fuck, he wrote a legendary essay about Garner's American Usage (third edition). why do you tell math you love her and only want to be with her, DFW, and then come home reeking of eau de cologne which is not math's own? does math look like a bitch? because you're fucking math like a bitch, dfw. you were fucking math.and math doesn't like to be fucked by anything except physics.some great character sketches, but nothing really hung together at all. some interminable description pieces that read like MFA creative writing bull sessions, something out of The Girl with Curious Hair. fun, but nothing to properly follow IJ's majesty and sweep.ought it have been published? a meaningless question -- upon being seized as possible, it would at some point happen. we're asking in that case, "ought he have destroyed it before destroying himself, knowing that it would emerge?" and he quite clearly did not -- the manuscript was described as "sitting neatly on his desk" (note this practically, but very very subtly, implies that it was printed out immediately prior to his suicide, since (a) how long does unbound hard copy of any substance remain usable, especially on the coffee- and cigarette-stained workspace of DFW, and (b) you'd have to check the soft copy for differences anyway, if the HC had been left out for any amount of time). i'm not sure i buy all that, frankly, because...i don't believe DFW would have allowed this. he knew of Kafka's last acts. he knew what happened to Nabokov. i can't accept that he thought this an acceptable swansong, and i know he knew that it would be rushed out as such.the only conclusion i can draw is that he wanted to provide for heirs. as a 100% estate taxer, i find that pretty sad, but at least logical. makes me kinda wish i'd pirated the book, though.i'll read it a few more times, but sigh, only sad glimpses of DFW at the IJ-era heights of his powers emerge here. in the end, the Pale King is DFW himself, and i think he was fully aware of the James Frazerian implications of his title. DFW is Arthur stripped of Excalibur's enchanted scabbard. Lear collapsing under Cordelia. Hamlet (King Hamlet, not the whippersnapper who pisses away Denmark) speaking to us from beyond the grave. Pellam, Pelles, Pescheour, and the anonymous Maimed King that Eliot would render a burden "carried on his back, which [Madame Sosotris] is not allowed to see." The enucleated Oedipus. Avallach and Wagner's Amfortas, transfixed upon a spear. And when we speak of piercings with spears (spiercings?), well, that kinda suggests yet another King, no? but this is no wonder of wonder, no miracle of miracles, no Easter Sunday; the Pale King's eucharist feeds vampires, Slate mines his grocery lists for two-paragraph articles, and the vision with which i am left is that of a man who finds himself rising toward what which he wished to pull down, who stares down that which returns though he had sent it away.of particular interest are the eyes.

  • Oriana
    2019-03-31 00:25

    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

  • Adam
    2019-04-11 23:30

    Would have been his masterpiece. Is his masterpiece?

  • Krok Zero
    2019-03-25 18:42


  • Jesse
    2019-04-23 00:50

    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 activities; Or they seemed like listening in on Wallace unpacking (usually) highly complex ideas and coming to even-minded, well thought out results. These were all wonderfully and highly rewarding experiences but, they always felt like mute listenings, whereas Wallace’s fiction always felt like a shared task: and this was by design. About “Infinite Jest” he spoke of wanting to entice his readers with Knievelish pizzazz, in order that they would do the re-reading that serious works require to divulge their payload. Alas the “The Pale King” was a wondrous appearance in my life. But then came the buzz-kill realization that, um, obviously this was it – the last we would get (excluding of course the warm backwash of uncollected writings that is sure to come).With this in mind I began reading and after finding the top of my head and reattaching it (I mean if that first chapter doesn’t fit Emily Dickinson’s definition of poetry I don’t know what does), I started reading in an emotional lurching sort of way, not wanting to read it to fast, but also not wanting to lose a holistic sense of the novel’s raison d’etre. This all changed around Leonard Stecyk (whom I thought was just an extended gag turned into a character but, man was I wrong - what Wallace does with this character would be a career achievement for some novelists). After this section I read “The Pale King” with the same speed, glee, and ejaculatory laughter that drives my girlfriend, and really anyone within earshot, mad with a curious desire to know just what’s so damn funny. I really don’t need to rehash the overall plot of the novel because 1) that would spoil the book for those of you who haven’t read it, 2) if you have read it you know what it’s about, and 3) plot is a secondary, or even tertiary, concern of Wallace’s fiction. And this is one of the things I love most about it. While most novels of canonical status are tightly packed, ergonomically written gems, Wallace’s novels seem like rough uncut diamonds of immense caratage that would be felonious to try and cut and buff up and shine into something unrecognizably gaudy, and accessible. At a young age Wallace identified what was special about fiction, the communicative ability between two insular minds. He thus made that the goal of his fiction – over sublime structure, allusive symbol, realistic characters, & c. (my little homage). Sometimes critics dismissed this as it didn’t quite slot in with literary expectations. But Wallace wasn’t writing for critics he was writing for readers like me: the lost ones, the ones who fight problems with bigger problems (an Elliott homage). He was a leader that said DON’T follow me, I’ve walked down this road – or maybe slipped down this slope – and eventually all that’s there is yourself and the “biggest” problem.But I’m getting ahead of myself; this wasn’t where Wallace started at all. When Wallace started writing fiction he was a “look ma, no hands” kinda writer (his words). “Broom of the System” had a faint yearning for true human connection, but his real fictional gift didn’t fully emerge until after McLean’s and Grananda house. I think it was here that Wallace saw that for all the problems he was given, he was given gifts to match them (he may have even heard these exact words as the have a Judeo-Christian helpspeak ring to them). He spoke of this time as transformational as a time of maturing and growing up. So it’s not surprising that his next work of fiction, “Infinite Jest” was also more mature, more giving. He still retained some of the literary gymnastics, and postmodern tomfoolery, yet he used these as bait, because underneath he had put a giant beating heart that was desperate for meaningful connection, that wanted to shine a little light upon the dark secrets that were slowly stripping away dignity and self-worth. As much as his fiction was a project to connect and share with his readers, it was also a therapeutic airing of things Wallace couldn’t say in interviews. Yet, in reading “Infinite Jest” anyone who has ever struggled with depression or substance abuse knew that Wallace’s book wasn’t completely fictional, but rather a construct he built to share his experience with mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse, without having to come right out and say, “I went through this” – the candid, authenticity of the internal description of these things was enough to let the perspicacious know that Wallace wasn’t speaking of things vicariously experienced (as the copyright page of IJ would have you believe). This was the main message I took from IJ, Wallace saying, “hey man I’ve been there and I came out the other end and I can laugh about it and point out all the silly obvious dodges I was using, and if I can do it with my thermonuclear grade mental issues, then I know you can too.” Of course most critics totally missed this point. Maybe they only read it once, or maybe they just didn’t have the same problems that Wallace was trying to illuminate and ameliorate, or maybe the novel didn’t work the way traditional novels work and they had trouble getting a handle on what exactly the novel was doing: innovation is never seamlessly accepted. Whatever the reason the novel was received by a lot of critics as just a reason for Wallace to show off how smart and creative and witty he was – now this was the reason he wrote “Broom of the System” and IJ definitely has moments that have a scent of selfish writing, but the overall reason of IJ is to share, to compare and to give to the reader things that normal everyday relationships cannot. This brings us to “The Pale King”. We all know why this novel is unfinished, and when Wallace killed himself, it really affected me because I felt he had come out of the other side (see supra) and that he found a way to stare into the face of existential absurdity and smile back at it and say, “I will be compassionate”, at least on a literary level. When he died I felt, like “the problem” won, and the “good person” lost. But I know that depression is an illness and that Wallace died of a disease, not of selfishness. And this is what bothered me so mightily about Franzen’s New Yorker essay. He seems to think that Wallace died from selfishness and that hanging himself at home was a way of slighting his wife. To this I say, a man in desperation is not thinking of things in this way, his very thought process is diseased and thus anything that comes out of it is a result of the disease and not Wallace himself. This is by no means an apotheosis of Wallace - I know he was just a man with faults: but major depression and its attendant suicidal impulses is not a fault, it’s a mental disease. Franzen would seem to also discount my view on Wallace as he seems to think all his readers were somehow duped by Wallace, the “hideous man”. Another reason, which Franzen implies, that Wallace’s readers are confused as to Wallace and his real reason for suicide, is that Franzen was personally closer to Wallace and thus was privy to things his readers weren’t. And while I’m sure there were numerous things which we never got wind of, we also were not as emotionally attached to Wallace as a friend or family member. This gives readers the opportunity to be less emotionally involved in Wallace’s work and/or death than Franzen could ever be. And because Wallace was such a personal writer, readers did know a lot about Wallace’s interior life. Now I know his work was just a “representation” of what his true internal life was, but I don’t see how that is any different than the way we are always marooned in our skull and must use “representations” (usually linguistic and sometimes false) to convey our internal life. I guess my argument is that Wallace’s fiction is a better example of where his true humanity lies. As a man, especially in the last years, his mental illness took over and all the hurtful things which Franzen demonizes him for, were a result of illness, not sadistic tendencies. And this is why TPK made me so happy, and even proud. Wallace found a way to use all his gargantuan skill to compassionately portray humans as they are and as they should be (esp. the Fogle section). He even takes an odd shot at himself, by making David Wallace a character who derides Chris Fogle. And yet Chris Fogle is Wallace’s (the actual author’s) best character and the one who best represents the change that Wallace was attempting as he matured. I think the fictional Wallace was the actual author’s way of showing the shallowness of people who condescend to true maturity. I must say that the whole Fogle section is a beautiful culmination of Wallace’s career from the moment in “E Unibas Pluram” when he urged for a new type of fiction writer who leaves the safety of irony for the heroism of true human compassion, until he finally silenced his inner-snark and wrote of Chris Fogle’s maturation. In reading this section I was finally able to forgive Wallace for killing himself, because for all my brain knew of mental illness, my heart still felt let down, like Wallace couldn’t pull through and finish this book. But the Fogle section was enough for me - enough to let me know that Wallace wanted to make the world a better place, wanted people to silence their inner-cynic, and embrace responsibility even if it is boring and banal, because it is this embrace which represents true love.Wallace’s first novel ended in the middle of a sentence because he wanted to show-off his knowledge of literary theory; his second novel ended in the middle of the plot’s climax because he wanted us to go back and re-read in order to find the heart that beat just beneath the surface; his third novel ends just – well – in the middle, because Wallace’s disease finally got the best of him. But in truth Wallace’s disease lost. One hundred years from now Wallace’s work will still inspire, will still speak to the addicted Mensa member, the self-loathing gifted, the terrified talented - and because of the courage he had to bury the genius and grow the giving, Wallace’s work will stand as a call to responsibility, to country, to family, to your brother, and most of all: to yourself. The disease only killed David Foster Wallace in a dark moment of despair, when he saw no way out. The week he died, I was contemplating writing a letter to him, I had just finished “Infinite Jest” again and wanted to let him know how much his novel meant to me and how I didn’t really get it until after a couple times through. I had never written a public persona before and was hesitant. I wish I would have written him to tell him all these things, but most of all I wish I could have given him a message from all his readers: ‘You are loved’. After all, we are all of us brothers, right?

  • Sentimental Surrealist
    2019-04-19 23:31

    This could've, had Wallace lived to see it through, exceeded even Infinite Jest. Yes, IJ is my favorite novel, and it's hard for me to imagine anything topping that, but the potential was here. See, for all of DFW's second novel's many virtues, it's a very self-conscious novel. You can tell that Wallace wanted it to be an encyclopedic account of human existence, and while 1,079 pages is a lot, I don't think it's enough to do what Wallace wanted to do. He wanted to make literary history with it, wanted to blow everyone away, wanted to be talked about. Anyone who didn't want those things for themselves wouldn't write a book like Infinite Jest.The Pale King is a different matter. It's still long, and it probably would've been about as long as its predecessor if it had been completed, but it's more thematically focused, honing in on a few ideas established by IJ (namely, empathy and the need for distraction) and pitching in a new theme: boredom. He'd been developing the super-detailed approach that characterizes this novel as far back as "Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR" and pushed it further with select stories from Oblivion, most notably "Mr. Squishy" and "The Soul is Not a Smithy," but it was here that he brought it out to its fullest, in fact blasting it out there for the world to see, starting with the dense first chapter and rolling from there.Now, it goes without saying that the Pale King has its flaws. Unfinished novels tend to. I'm at last bumping it up to a deserved five stars because, much like 2666, it is a) as good as it possibly could be, b) probably bound to be a technically flawed novel because it tries to do something no other novel had before (see also: Ulysses, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Underworld), and c) is still jam-packed with five star moments. Take, for instance, the story of "Irrelevant" Chris Fogle's movement from apathetic hedonism to man on a mission (a hilarious novella-length chapter marked by asides as insightful as they are ridiculous), or Meredith Rand's conversation with Shane Drinion, brilliantly juxtaposing provocative and shattering discourse with the mundane goings-on of your average bar. Or the book's central idea that enduring boredom is the secret to not only living a full and satisfying life, but also acknowledging and overcoming your inner demons. Extra-extra relevant in the days of the internet and instant gratification and the like.So yes, it is uneven and kind of shaggy, but a five anyway for how it's managed to hang in my mind for the year after I read it, just like how Infinite Jest did, and a five anyway for being full of wisdom and terrific character development (Leonard Steyck's evolution in particular), for some imaginative metafiction that pulls the genre or concept or whatever you might call it far, far away from Barth, for Wallace's always-terrific prose, and for the terrific humor throughout. If this had been seen through, and trust me, the brief notes and unfinished episodes towards the end are heartbreaking, it would've probably ended up my favorite novel, thus granting Wallace the #1 and #2 slot. Not a bad showing, man.

  • Natalie
    2019-04-07 01:38

    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.

  • Matt
    2019-04-01 22:39

    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 often than not. One of the pleasures of fine lit is that you get a sense of a discriminating, enveloping, generous field of vision from the writer or the world the writer creates. it's like an old house you grew up in- even with the lights off, you get a sense of where everything is. The author cares enough about his world to create it vividly, compellingly, evocatively, and even if he's a misanthrope or a raging addict or a stern moralizer there's something of redemption in the act of creation itself. To add a wing on the ever-morphing mansion of art- the ancient and secret and unbearably vivid realm of the imagination which of course may not be reality but might glean the guts of what comprises the real when held up alongside it- which, as all passionate readers know, is as much a form of being alive as breathing or walking casually down the street.From the first few pages I immediately got a sense that Wallace, god bless his postmodern, hyper-conscious soul, was really letting it go. There's an ecstatic quality to the first 50 or so pages; the details pile up, the rhythmic pulse of the prose is heartbeat present, the characters are eccentric and somewhat strain the bounds of credulity yet tack back to plausibility because Wallace is just an amazing talent. It was really heartening and inspiring and somewhat reassuring to see such an intellect cut loose. Wallace always gets criticized for being almost terminally hip with his digressions and formal trickery and pomo self-consciousness and narrative reflexivity...rather unfairly.There's a big beating heart below the massive brain. Always. I really get a sense that, thus far in, The Pale King has an emotionally releasing quality to the prose. I know it's unfinished and edited from a third party but still...they didn't change the words on the page, they only refashioned the chronology of the episodes.I do have an unfortunate habit of absolutely loving books for a hundred pages and then suddenly falling deeply out of love. I really don't think this is going to happen with this one, though, after all I've been judiciously waiting to complete the works since, after all, there just won't be any more, will there?Oh, and I'd be really curious to see what a libertarian or a socialist (a real one, mind, not a poseur) would make of the IRS situation. That's why I added this to my shelf for 'social crit' which is of course a rather obvious and nebulous category. A painstaking representation of an institution like this can't help but be social criticism. Taxes: boring death for most people. As an ex tax examiner (yup!) and thus ex-wiggler, I know quite well the mise-en-scene we're getting here. But the thing is: even as IRS policy and taxes are notoriously opaque and boring as all hell, Wallace himself (or "Wallace" as the narrative suggests, and well, ok then, if you prefer...) acknowledges the fact that even if the lines of discourse are dense, there is a host of deeply subversive and radical issues at stake- the nature of the state, the systematization of modern life itself, the relationship between consensual governance and sheer necessity...There's a radical reading of this text just waiting for someone to make some academic bones over someday. I also have to add that the strange and (seeming) irony of an ecstatic text created by a emerging suicide is not lost on me...I'm reading this at a very complex and angst-ridden time in my life, being no stranger to the scenario but really just getting it from all sides here unexpectedly, and I'm pleased to say that reading this book has actually been an extremely soothing and fresh experience. Death be not proud.***Finished it tonight. The Wallace concerns are here, of course: the ironic self-conscious self-consciousness of emotionally strained, disturbed or depressed people. The minutiae of the madness of everyday life, which is to say categorically also the vapid, thechnocratic beaurocratic presence of institutions. How people behave when they know there's some sort of behavior expected of them, what specific kind they don't know exactly. The snide and clipped laughter of the career pen pusher who can cite endless reams of statistics about the history, behvior code, accounting, and telos of the machine they are in fact a cog in who goes home at night and stares blanky at a sitcom, not laughing but acknowledging laughter taking place on the screen. Grimy realism, usually in dialect (Wallace has, I think a vivid ear for colloquial speech) which is more of a neon memory which collects itself in trauma. Wallace's women are an interesting breed. he likes grotesques, and he likes the quotidian. His women suffer from being at the mercy of their own beauty, kindness or good intentions. The men aren't as hideous as you would think, they're either tortured satiric geniuses or schlubs or wicked arrested adolescents. But the tenuous possibilty for authentic human connection is the goal- and it happens. Wallace also has playwright's ear for extended monologue. Some of his most powerful writing is found there. However, and this is crucial, it must always be delivered with a postmodern nervous glance over the shoulder, a am-I-doing-this-right, as their guts gradually spill out across the floor, opening into a void. The mistery of the archive. The goofy, the guileless, the holy fools, the empty likeability. I think Wallace was a moralist at heart, with a massive transparent eyeball (his essays he annotates what he sees, in his fiction he dramatizes it- and I mean EVERYTHING- he takes the usual artistic onslaught of perception and impression and sqeezes it into a wall street ticker of data and rumination. I think his biggest influence really was Dostoevsky, even though of course EVERYBODY loves Dostoevsky and reads him as a sort of Led Zeppelin II for literature. This is not to take away the relevance, mind you, but to underscore the canonical status, virtuosity, and raw dark power of the work. I also think, a la Dostoevsky, that his end point was Tolstoy. It's not about how the writer writes necessarily, but what he intermittently and inexorably ends up standing for. Not in a political sense, though that can certainly be a major part of it, but in terms of worldview. Dostoevsky is obsessed and fascinated more than he would like to admit with madness, desperation, nothingness, redemption. He's into the irrational, the absurd and grotesque. Wallace registers this and internalizes it- morality again. Tolstoy recognizes all of that and is then concerned with how that gets translated into the social sphere. He wants the above ground, not just the subterranean. Morality in the sense that he will, if he can, sit you down and pour you a drink and pat you on the knee and explain that the kingdom of god is within you. Dostoevsky will illustrate how the existing models are filled with darkness, madness, illusion, delusion, spite and sex. He'll tell you what's wrong by lifting the sewer grate.Wallace is in an interesting position here. He knows the terminal existential waste of the guy in the shirt which is exactly matching the shirt of the guy sitting next to him behind the desk. The empty greeting because there are no words, really, with which to greet another. The nowhere man. The man who has nothing to say because no one will understand him and is surrounded by people.But if you look at, say, "this is water", his commencement speech, you know that he's in earnest and that he is encouraging enlightened attention, selflessness, decency, and imagination. He's trying to reach out of the terminal hipness of treating the world and life itself (YOUR life, by the way) like a sitcom. He wants to break through to the humid, sensitive consciousness beneath the corporate slogans and accepted social rituals and 'interface'...and he tries, lord how he tries. But he can't quite do it- yet. Kakutani was very right when she called him a writer of virtuosic talents who can seemingly do anything. He can. He can write all over the map in pretty much every way you would imagine fiction taking form. There are brilliant moments in The Pale King. There are long stretches which are tedious and dry as dust. It has to get four stars because, uncompleted draft that it is, it doesn't yet have organic unity, radiance, wholeness, the shape has not taken form. It will always be thus- Wallace's despair and constant psychic pain meant he eventually decided to end his life. The people closest to him- the people who loved him and the people he loved- weren't even surprised.Wallace chose a way out which meant there would be no ending. The hole that remains is luminous, but it must remain empty. It's deeply to be reminded that art is not a morality tale or even a comedy. Wallace was not the only one to see the light, but he was also one of the many who finally couldn't find it within himself to reach it. The Pale King will remain a marvelous, incomplete coda to a brilliant and all-too-short career.....

  • Chris
    2019-04-24 23:42

    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. Not the most enjoyable book, but there were passages and ideas which showed the mark of genius.I rebelled against the time commitment DFW selfishly demands up on his reader, and faux-academic use of footnotes and endnotes, in what I have always perceived to be an essentially adolescent attempt to appear clever and complex and to give his books a textbook quality, to make the reader feel that they are being confronted with something challenging, and that they should Pay Attention, because things are going to get complex! Greater authors would be able to do that with standard text alone, but DFW had to get clever, had to pull tricks. Regardless of this, and the solipsism that drives writing overly long run on sentences, with clauses after clauses, a easy trick to make the reader gain speed and confuse them, make them navigate the text, confront the text as a challenging slalom of thought, endlessly coruscating ever forward with no promise or hint of resolution or conclusion, all in an attempt to appear ever more comprehensive and observant, or perhaps not more observant so much as omniscient in a way that also conveys care in making the reader aware of precisely everything that the author wishes to convey, perhaps going over details again and again, but from different angles, or perhaps slightly different phrases so as to really clue the reader into just how difficult it really is to truly convey the existence of something and not just the experience of perceiving that something and in this manner etc., etc., there are usually good moments to be had.So, I know that DFW is widely loved, and even taught fiction, but I still feel that his authorly tricks have been done before, and I've never been impressed by these authorly tricks, which serve to obscure the fact that all novels need character, plots, insight into human personality and behavior, and an ability to convey ideas. DFW excels only at the latter, but here he truly does excel. The best I can say of DFW is that compared to the current crop of American authors, DFW was many times better that his contemporaries, in both his powers of observation and the ingenious ideas he sometimes was able to articulate.For a full treatment of The Pale King, his final project, I defer to the NYRB... book pales compared to say, Stephen HeroHowever, it was very enjoyable to read, both easier and more enjoyable than Infinite Jest, and the other DFW I have read (not all). The characters are supposed to be facing crushing boredom working at the IRS, and this book was written when DFW himself was also going off the rails and rapidly downward to, let's confront it, his own suicide - his own 'Oblivion'. However, this "book", or collection of drafts for a book, was easy and enjoyable to read, and I even recommend it over Infinite Jest. Plenty of rewarding passages with novel ideas, and the right amount of complexity that revisiting it in a few years will reap rewards to the patient and indulgent reader.Scott, I await your comments

  • Habemus_apicellam
    2019-04-13 21:25

    Sezionando l'accidia fino all'ultimo nervo L'ultima prova di DFW è la più ambiziosa - la sfida è mettere al centro delle pagine la condizione umana meno attraente e interessanta: la noia, il tedio, l'ennui, la perdita di spinta vitale connessa alla monotonia e alla ripetitività. E a questo fine lo scrittore investe dieci anni della sua vita (gli ultimi dieci anni, in triste retrospettiva), creando il contesto fisico, temporale (e direi, quasi filosofica) per affrontare questo tema: la sede dell'IRS (Internal Revenue Service - l'Agenzia delle Entrate negli USA) a Peoria, Illinois dove convergono personaggi speciali nel loro modo personale di affrontare il lavoro forse più tedioso del mondo: l'analisi dei moduli fiscali alla ricerca di incongruenze nei numeri che possano portare ad una verifica.Se luogo, tempo e tema sono unitari, molteplice ed esplosivo è lo stile di scrittura: 50 capitoli che sono la summa delle capacità di scrittura di DFW, dallo sperimentale più audace al flusso di coscienza di "wastoid", dalla geniale e divertentissima meta-narrazione alle interviste dimezzate come in "Brevi interviste a Uomini schifosi", dall'analisi logorroica e labirintica degli squilibri psicologici al delirio figlio di sostanze allucinogeni, da pagine di pure terrore e strazio a invenzioni geniali quali i fantasmi che visitano i travet durante il lavoro.Sembra quasi esserci la volontà di portare a fattor comune l'immenso e rutilante universo delle possibilità letterarie per rappresentare, analizzare il "mal di vivere" contemporaneo che ci attanaglia tutti (forse per arrivare ad una catarsi? ma è possibile / immaginabile?)Certo, in queste 600 pagine DFW sembra solo mettere giù le carte e resta la sensazione di un magnifico set costruito con minuzia e perfezionismo sul quale, purtroppo, non è rimasto tempo per mettere in scena la rappresentazione finale e definitiva - ma vale assolutamente la pena di leggerle, andando anche a vedere le "note di lavoro" alla fine del testo che permettono di cogliere un lampo del metodo di lavoro del grande scrittore, dell'attenzione ai possibili sviluppi delle trame, delle tante domande che lo coglievano durante la scrittura...

  • Jim
    2019-04-12 23:31

    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 thought and action." It's certainly an unfinished novel, there are parts that clunk, in particular some of the overwrought conversation between IRS staff, and the whole is somewhat less than the parts. I gave it five stars because I'd read it again. Though I wouldn't read it all again. I would read these passages again: Fogle's 100-page account about why he joined the IRS is freestanding wonder and should be in William James's "Varieties of Religious Experience" (might they republish it like they did the first part of "Underworld"?); the horrible and hilarious high-school shop accident that ends with the poignant observation "...that what they'd then thought was the wide round world was a little boy's preening dream"; the sixty-page barroom tete-a-tete between "The fox" and "Mr. excitement"; the trailer crash and murder of Toni Ware's mother; all are worth rereading and close study. For humor I've already returned to the sixties experience of a certain Wash U student, and also the account of the fierce infant who "would just gaze at the auditor fiercely, with a combination of intensity and disdain, its expression rather as if it were hungry and the auditor were food but not quite the right kind."Plus I actually enjoyed some of the info about the IRS, even if it isn't true. If we get audited, I'll check the auditor's desk name plate to see if it's Phil McPockets.Unexpectedly, it's one of the best books on meditation that I've read even though the word itself is only mentioned once, and then only in the notes section in the back.

  • Sean
    2019-04-24 18:32

    The potential scope of this novel is impressive. It being unfinished, of course, means that this scope is never fully realized. What we are left with is a skeleton assembled by Wallace's editor and hung with bits of flesh and muscle. A few blood vessels thread their way through. In nonfigurative terms it's a series of character studies and vignettes, some quite dense and others fleeting. What we don't see is how these pieces would have been shaped and fitted together, what would have been cut, what would have been added. In the manuscript notes included at the end, Wallace provides clues to his vision, but as it was a work in progress, even he did not know what the entire body would have looked like once it was fully animated. As an incomplete work, though, it still staggers the mind with both its thematic breadth and its perception into what it means to be human.