The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

"David Foster Wallace proves his mastery of his craft in his final
novel by taking one of the most mind numbing and boring jobs and writing
about it in a way that makes it seem mind-blowingly interesting.
This story was at first intimidating to me. I knew there were
multiple narrators and I was having a hard time keeping track of who was
narrating when. It soon occurred to me that I should not focus on the
more formal structure of the traditional novel I was so desperately
seeking out and instead focus on the story itself.
As soon as my focus shifted to the story alone, a wonderful image of a
place and a time started forming in my mind... 
I would suggest that any lover of postmodern literature or
contemporary American authors read this novel right away! It wasn't an
easy read, but they say the best things in life don't come easy, right?" ~Lucas

 Read Lucas's full review Between the Covers.

— Lucas is now a TC staff-alum, but an ongoing TC blogger


The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Foster Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has.

The Pale King remained unfinished at the time of David Foster Wallace's death, but it is a deeply compelling and satisfying novel, hilarious and fearless and as original as anything Wallace ever undertook. It grapples directly with ultimate questions--questions of life's meaning and of the value of work and society--through characters imagined with the interior force and generosity that were Wallace's unique gifts. Along the way it suggests a new idea of heroism and commands infinite respect for one of the most daring writers of our time.

About the Author

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) is the author of Infinite Jest, Girl with Curious Hair, Everything and More, The Broom of the System, and other fiction and nonfiction. Among his honors, he received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award.

Praise For…

"Wallace's finest work as a novelist...when Wallace steers the tanker back to its theme--the struggle to extract meaning from each second that passes, no matter how empty or lonely or indistinguishable from the second that came before it--The Pale King achieves power levels that Wallace never reached in his first two novels....His ability to render the fine finials and fractals and flourishes of a mind acting upon itself, from moment to moment, using only the blunt, numb instruments of language, has few if any equals in American literature."
-Lev Grossman, TIME

"Deeply sad, deeply philosophical...By turns breathtakingly brilliant and stupefying dull--funny, maddening and almost everything Wallace wrote, including THE PALE KING, he aimed to use words to lasso and somehow subdue the staggering, multifarious, cacophonous predicament that is modern American life."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Feverishly encompassing, sharply comedic, and haunting...this is not a novel of defeat but, rather, of oddly heroic persistence....electrifying in its portrayal of individuals seeking unlikely refuge in a vast, absurd bureaucracy. In the spirit of Borges, Gaddis, and Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Wallace conducts a commanding and ingenious inquiry into monumental boredom, sorrow, the deception of appearances, and the redeeming if elusive truth that any endeavor, however tedious, however impossible, can become a conduit to enlightenment.'"
-Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"Nothing short of sublime--the first two chapters are a real put-the-reader-on-notice charging bull blitz, and the David Foster Wallace sections...are tiny masterpieces....achingly funny...pants-pissingly hilarious."
-Publishers Weekly

"One of the saddest and most lovely books I've ever read...Let's state this clearly: You should read THE PALE KING....You'll be [kept up at night] because D.F.W. writes sentences and sometimes whole pages that make you feel like you can't breathe."
-Benjamin Alsup, Esquire

Product Details
ISBN: 9780316074223
ISBN-10: 0316074225
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: April 10th, 2012
Pages: 550
Language: English