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The Pale King Paperback – April 10, 2012

3.8 out of 5 stars 132 customer reviews

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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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
. . . and so too may be this book, for some of you. It will not appeal even to all of David Foster Wallace's fans. You should give it a try, though.

I'm halfway through The Pale King as I write this, so keep that context in mind as you read (or not) what follows.

The three-star rating seems most appropriate to me: As Michael Pietsch's Introduction makes clear, what we have here is NOT Wallace's final intention for The Pale King, but Pietsch's version of that intention. That doesn't mean, though, that we shouldn't have this. While it may be unfinished in and of itself, I think that it clearly reflects Wallace's larger concerns in the latter years of his life--both life-affirming ones and, yes, darker ones as well.

(Something else you might want to keep in mind, by the way, is that I think it's a mistake to read The Pale King only or primarily as an indirect suicide note.)

The review proper is here: The version of The Pale King that we have takes us into a place most of us loathe, into the minds of the people who work there (whom most of us would probably regard as at least unpleasant), recreates (deliberately, through its prose style) the tedium of that place, and reveals its workers as, sure, flawed human beings (but who among us is not?) yet strangely drawn to (and more or less good at) the work that loathsome place requires of them. He locates their humanity, in other words. We may not want to hang out with some (most?) of them, but we end up acknowledging and maybe even respecting them as we say, yes, I'm glad it's not me, but someone has to do this work. But then again, that is the notion of Service in a nutshell. I'd argue that that's not just thought-provoking but ultimately life-affirming.
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