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The Pale King Hardcover – April 15, 2011


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New Adult Fiction by Rainbow Rowell
Acclaimed author Rainbow Rowell's latest book, Landline, offers a poignant, humorous look at relationships and marriage. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (April 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316074230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316074230
  • ASIN: 0316074233
  • Product Dimensions: 1.6 x 6.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"One hell of a document and a valiant tribute to the late Wallace.....Stretches of this are 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 of that whole self-aware po-mo thing of his that's so heavily imitated.... often achingly funny...pants-pissingly hilarious....Yet, even in its incomplete state...the book is unmistakably a David Foster Wallace affair. You get the sense early on that he's trying to cram the whole world between two covers. As it turns out, that would actually be easier to than what he was up to here, because then you could gloss over the flyover country that this novel fully inhabits, finding, among the wigglers, the essence of our fundamental human struggles."—Publishers Weekly

"The final, beautiful act of an unwilling icon...one of the saddest, 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...because again and again he invites you to consider some very heavy things....Through some function of his genius, he causes us to ask these questions of ourselves."—Benjamin Alsup, Esquire

"Deeply sad, deeply philosophical...breathtakingly brilliant...funny, maddening and elegiac...[David Foster Wallace's] most emotionally immediate work...It was in trying to capture the hectic, chaotic reality--and the nuanced, conflicted, ever-mutating thoughts of his characters--that Wallace's synesthetic prose waxed so prolix, his sentences unspooling into tangled skeins of words, replete with qualifying phrases and garrulous footnotes...because 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

"The overture to Wallace's unfinished last novel is a rhapsodic evocation of the subtle vibrancy of the midwestern landscape, a flat, wind-scoured place of potentially numbing sameness that is, instead, rife with complex drama....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 (1985), Wallace conducts a commanding and ingenious inquiry into monumental boredom, sorrow, the deception of appearances, and the redeeming if elusive truth that any endeavor, however tedious, however impossible, can become a conduit to enlightenment, or at least a way station in a world where 'everything is on fire, slow fire.'"—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"THE PALE KING represents Wallace's finest work as a novelist...Wallace made a career out of rushing in where other writers feared to tread or wouldn't bother treading. He had an outsize, hypertrophied talent...THE PALE KING is an attempt to stare directly into the blind spot and face what's there...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..this we see him do at full extension."—Lev Grossman, TIME

"To read THE PALE KING is in part to feel how much Wallace had changed as a writer, compressed and deepened himself...It's easy to make the book sound heavy, but it's often very funny, and not politely funny, either...Contains what's sure to be some of the finest fiction of the year."—John Jeremiah Sullivan, GQ

"A thrilling read, replete with the author's humor, which is oftentimes bawdy and always bitingly smart.... The notion that this book is 'unfinished' should not be given too much weight. The Pale King is, in many ways, quite complete: its core characters are fully drawn, each with a defining tic, trait, or backstory... Moreover, the book is far from incomplete in its handling of a host of themes, most of them the same major issues, applicable to all of us, with which Wallace also grappled in Infinite Jest: unconquerable boredom, the quest for satisfaction in work, the challenge of really knowing other people and the weight of sadness.... The experience to be had from reading The Pale King feels far more weighty and affecting than a nicely wrapped story. Its reach is broad, and its characters stay with you."—Daniel Roberts, National Public Radio

"The four-word takeaway: You should read it!"—New York Magazine

"An astonishment, unfinished not in the way of splintery furniture but in the way of Kafka's Castle or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine ... What's remarkable about The Pale King is its congruity with Wallace's earlier ambitions ... The Pale King treats its central subject--boredom itself--not as a texture (as in Fernando Pessoa), or a symptom (as in Thomas Mann), or an attitude (as in Bret Easton Ellis), but as the leading edge of truths we're desperate to avoid. It is the mirror beneath entertainment's smiley mask, and The Pale King aims to do for it what Moby-Dick did for the whale ... Watching [Foster Wallace] loosed one last time upon the fields of language, we're apt to feel the way he felt at the end of his celebrated essay on Federer at Wimbledon: called to attention, called out of ourselves."—Garth Risk Hallberg, New York Magazine

"Wallace's gift for language, especially argot of all sorts, his magical handling of masses of detail...[these] talents are on display again in The Pale King."—Jeffrey Burke, Bloomberg

"An incomplete, complex, confounding, brilliant novel...Reading THE PALE KING is strangely intimate...it also comes with a note of grace."—Sam Anderson, New York Times Magazine

"The most anticipated posthumous American novel of the last century...[Wallace was] America's most-gifted writer...American literature will rarely, if ever, give us another mind like Wallace's...ferociously written...richly imagined...a deep panoply of lives and the post-modern awareness of how this all was constructed, both the work and the vortex of current life."—John Freeman, Boston Globe

"THE PALE KING represents Wallace's effort, through humor, digression and old-fashioned character study, to represent IRS agents...as not merely souled, but complexly so. He succeeds, profoundly, and the rest of the book's intellectual content is gravy. Yes, parts are difficult, but 'boring' never comes into it. And it's very, very funny."—Sam Thielman, Newsday

"It may be unfinished, but the reviews-cum-retrospectives all soundly agree: It's still a book to be read."—The Miami Herald

"A fully imagined, often exquisitely fleshed-out novel about a dreary Midwestern tax-return processing center that he has caused to swarm with life.... a series of bravura literary performances--soliloquies; dialogues; video interview fragments; short stories with the sweep and feel of novellas...This is what 360-degree storytelling looks like, and if it doesn't come to a climax or end, exactly, that may not be a defect."—Judith Shulevitz, Slate

"It could hardly be more engaging. The Pale King is by turns funny, shrewd, suspenseful, piercing, smart, terrifying and rousing."—Laura Miller, Salon

"Strange, entertaining, not-at-all boring...Wallace transforms this driest of settings into a vivid alternate IRS universe, full of jargon and lore and elaborately behatted characters, many of them with weird afflictions and/or puzzling supernatural abilities.... hilarious...brilliant and bizarre, another dispatch from Wallace's...endlessly fascinating brain."—Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly

"Exhilarating."—Hillel Italie, Associated Press

"Heroic and humbling...sad, breathtakingly rigorous and searching, ultimately hysterically funny."—Matt Feeney, Slate

"Brilliant...[it] glimmers and sparkles."—Richard Rayner, The Los Angeles Times

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.

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

The Pale King is a work of pure genius, DFW's best writing, the only book I've read that is memetic of total human experience.
Joshua Fields Millburn
Alongside the humor are very real, personal, sad moments, or sometimes very sweet ones, and occasionally some philosophical conversation.
Doctor Gaines
The problem comes in that because this book was never finished, parts of it are so boring as to make the novel at times a difficult read.
Mike Williams

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

279 of 308 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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72 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Amber 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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50 of 61 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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