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The Pale King Paperback – April 10, 2012


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The Pale King + Infinite Jest + Consider the Lobster and Other Essays
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Editorial Reviews

Review

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

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

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

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

About the Author

David Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1962 and raised in Illinois, where he was a regionally ranked junior tennis player. He received bachelor of arts degrees in philosophy and English from Amherst College and wrote what would become his first novel, The Broom of the System, as his senior English thesis. He received a masters of fine arts from University of Arizona in 1987 and briefly pursued graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University. His second novel, Infinite Jest, was published in 1996. Wallace taught creative writing at Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College, and published the story collections Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion, the essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Consider the Lobster. He was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award, and was appointed to the Usage Panel for The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. He died in 2008. His last novel, The Pale King, was published in 2011.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316074223
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316074223
  • ASIN: 0316074225
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,317 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Foster Wallace wrote the acclaimed novels Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System and the story collections Oblivion, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Girl With Curious Hair. His nonfiction includes the essay collections Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and the full-length work Everything and More.  He died in 2008.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

291 of 321 people found the following review helpful By Elias Z on April 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are so many different reasons to love David Foster Wallace's work, and so many reasons to feel that his death ripped an irreparable hole in the fabric not just of literary culture in America, but also in our daily world. In everything he wrote, DFW was grappling with the hardest subject of all--what does it feel like to be alive, not generally, but specifically, in the here and now, with billions of details crashing through our fields of perception? For that reason, although always dark, his work shimmers with a kind of graceful light. He was a philosophical novelist in the way the great nineteenth century Russians were. He couldn't hide the fact that he loved people, and he loved teasing out the unique predicaments that people encounter by just being people who love things and hate things and want things and enjoy things and grow tired and jealous and bored.

These elements, and more, are abundantly available in The Pale King, DFW's unfinished novel. In terms of organization, it is understandably a huge mess, although neatened admirably by the editor. But who reads DFW for conventionally organized plots? And why should you read this novel? For starters:

1) The language. DFW is a masterful stylist, a brainiac who always could have sounded much more intellectual than he chose to, instead embracing an easy-going, colloquial tone because he wanted people to read his books. The opening lines of PK alone ring with the linguistic sensibility that sounds like him and him alone. His signature music courses through passage after passage. His verbal precision, so simple word-wise, gives a jolt by making you see things in a new, though until-now, overlooked, way.

2) The characters. Sure, they're a lot of them. Some will grab you, others won't.
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84 of 92 people found the following review helpful By Kevin on May 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm going to start off by saying that this book made for one of the most frustrating reading experiences of my entire life. Before even considering reading TPK, know this: it is grossly, grossly unfinished. Wallace fictions are never a walk in the park. They usually never seem to "come together" the way most stories do. That's just not who Wallace was as a writer. Despite this, the amount of narrative threads that just sort of trail off and the almost total lack of anything even resembling a gesture towards a plot is a bit much, even for DFW. One gets the sense that we are reading nothing close to the completed Pale King we would've gotten had Wallace not eliminated his own map.

Now that that's out of the way, let me tell you: this book is amazing. Wallace meditates on heroism, boredom, civics, duty, attention, authorship, religion, family, love, language and nature with levels of grace, humor and wisdom that other contemporary writers could only dream of having. DFW sure has come a long way from the cold cerebral linguistic games of The Broom of the System and the mind-bending erudition of Infinite Jest. The Pale King showcases Wallace at his most accessible, most heartfelt and most mature.

Reading this book is like finding some pieces of a beautiful shattered urn. The shards in themselves are gorgeous, so much so that it makes the heart ache wondering how they're all meant to fit together, what the urn would look like if it were made whole. This doesn't make the broken pieces any less beautiful, though.
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52 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Rachel M. Helps on April 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
DFW relates in his notes on The Pale King: "Plot a series of set-ups for stuff happening, but nothing actually happens."

Nothing happens, but the nothing is so interestingly worded and in such comprehensive settings that reading about things like debilitating boredom and tax forms becomes, at times, pleasant. The book feels similar to Infinite Jest but seems less overarching (probably since TPK is half as long and unfinished). I was very happy to find actual, coherent, planned chapters in this unfinished work rather than a series of notecards (sorry Nabokov!). Characters seem absolutely believable and come with their own signature nervous ticks. Chapters alternate between one-offs and magnified microcosms existing in other chapters; the prose style also varies between easily-understood-conversation to surrealist-interrogation.

DFW gives the novel some intrigue by claiming within the work of fiction that he is not making any of it up, once again bringing up the problem of what it means for a work to be "fiction." I have yet to find a source for the progressive sales tax bit, but I found it hilarious and indicative of exactly the stupid things bureaucracies dream up sometimes. I also found the insights about the intense mental strain of tedious tasks highly accurate (speaking as someone who has worked in the fields of data entry and observation of potentially abusive parents).

Content-wise, if you're uncomfortable with injury-gore, a few sexual scenes, and/or some swearing, you will probably find some parts of this book, well, uncomfortable.

In short, if you loved Infinite Jest and wish there were just a little more, you should buy this book. If you haven't read any DFW, you'll probably still enjoy parts of the book, but would benefit from reading one of his other works first (Infinite Jest if you want to tackle that, or A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again for some essays).
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