David Foster Wallace’s posthumously published The Pale King is a challenging listen. This is made explicit in the introduction from Wallace’s editor and friend, Michael Pietsch, who put the novel together from more than 1,000 pages left behind after Wallace’s suicide in 2008. The intricate, rambling novel is held together by five men including a character named David Wallace who work at an IRS processing center in Peoria, Illinois in the 1980s. There are forays into tax law, nearly rhapsodic tales of drug use, the ennui of working life, and copious footnotes that are a Wallace trademark.
Robert Petkoff is a reassuring presence as narrator of The Pale King, having voiced other Wallace novels. That history makes Petkoff adept at wrapping his tongue around the stream-of-consciousness writing and its varying moods and emotions. Petkoff has a casual, well-enunciated style that he can bend into arch sarcasm, deadpan humor, and even a robotic-sounding transcription machine. Wallace often breaks the narrative with asides, in this case with tax code information, and Petkoff drops his voice to indicate these pauses before picking up the main storyline again. When Wallace switches to first person, writing as his alter-ego, Petkoff gives him a looser, more energetic voice that one can imagine isn’t too far from the late author’s own.
The novel might be best summed up in a passage where Wallace describes the chronic worrier Claude Sylvanshine as he transfers to a new IRS office: “The whole thing presented such a cyclone of logistical problems and complexities, Sylvanshine was forced to do some thought-stopping merge his own awareness with the panoramic vista.” The Pale King is indeed a cyclone of complexities and might require multiple listens to absorb, but Petkoff is to be commended for diving in and bringing an extra layer of cohesion to an often-chaotic novel. Collin Kelley
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.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
©2011 David Foster Wallace (P)2011 Hachette Audio
"One hell of a document and a valiant tribute to the late Wallace.” (Publishers Weekly)
"Deeply sad, deeply philosophical…. The Pale King will be minutely examined by longtime fans for the reflexive light it sheds on Wallace's oeuvre and his life. But it may also snag the attention of newcomers, giving them a window...into this immensely gifted writer's vision of the human condition as lived out in the middle of America." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)
"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….” (Lev Grossman, TIME)
Ever struggle with tedium? Who hasn't? Did you know the word "boring" did not exist in the English language until the advent of the Machine Age? I did not, until this fact was revealed in the course of experiencing David Foster Wallace's final epic, The Pale King. This labor of love, painstakingly brought to life by the author's long-time editor Michael Pietsch when the work was left unfinished after Wallace's suicide in 2008, reveals the infinity underneath boredom. Wallace removes the lid from the gaping void that is always right there for those who dare to look. Clearly, he spent a lot of time looking down that hole, for better or for worse. -paragraph-
Wallace has the gift of being able to stop time. He dives deep down in a headfirst rush into a single moment, peeling back the layers of thought, memory, feeling, experience, sensation, and circumstance that overlay every simple act, until they all stand exposed and elucidated. Then, just as quickly, he yanks you back up to the surface, back to the mundane and ordinary, back to the normal, back to the squeak of the wheel in the document collector's cart in the IRS processing center where much of the "action" in the Pale King takes place. Sometimes you feel like a fish gasping for water in the naked sunlight. Sometimes you feel as though you've been given some tremendous gift, a gem of insight that will sustain you and nourish you for years. -paragraph-
The IRS? As subject matter for a novel? I cannot imagine anyone else who could pull this off. While the book is understandably ragged in many ways, Pietsch has made it hold together so that the undeniable voice of David Foster Wallace comes through loud and clear. The audiobook's narration is handled masterfully by Robert Petkoff. He lives inside the 200-word sentences, the parenthetical asides, the footnotes, and the flights of language that are Wallace's trademarks, making them real, accessible, and meaningful. -paragraph-
David Foster Wallace lives.
Fascinating book and a pitch-perfect reading. I listened twice. Robert Petkoff's reading has both a flow and a level of detail that makes the book comprehensible and intriguing. I bought the hard copy and looking at it, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have made it through. This is a gem.
I am relieved to announce I have lived up to my vow to read the 2012 Pulitzer Prize trilogy of finalists who were passed over (indeed, no prize was awarded); and have with some difficulty, lived through “The Pale King,” David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel.
Certainly the most complex, the longest, of the three candidates ("Train Dreams" and "Swamplandia" the other two candidates), as an audio book it proved challenging without printed (visible) markers to identify when the story would make a first-gear leap into fifth (a continuous disorientation of ever-changing themes). The characters were really pretty unlikable, or at least unwarm-uppable to. And of course, the basic landscape, the IRS, was not a topic I really cared to learn much about; after all, I know more than I need by simply being a citizen trying to avoid getting creamed.
Beyond the opening, negative comments, Wallace’s stream-of-consciousness writing ultimately arrested me, albeit somewhat late into the read. Raised in the Midwest myself, I realized that I knew these people, that they populated my neighborhoods, my living room, as I was growing up. Aswim in details, lost in tedious jobs, jockeying for promotions, and living even more banal lives outside of work, I developed perhaps a camaraderie for these misfits and sympathy toward their compulsive, eccentric, and left-brained worlds. And, yes, I learned more about the IRS that I care to share, primarily because none of it is useful in the pay-less-tax arena.
Recommend this book? Well, I did suggest to my CPA to read it. And I have become compulsed to pick up Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” his landmark book that catapulted him to heady fame. So perhaps not a must-read, but something to consider. Bear in mind this reviewer attempted to read Ulysses 3 times and never managed to read past the toilet scene.
Brilliant, excruciating minutia
Flawless, clean narration
Bang Your Head Against The Wall
This is my first exposure to DFW and I loved it. Long stretches of the novel are tedious, yes, but there are sections - three come to mind - that are just breath-taking in skill, technique and story. As a commentary on life in general and the travesty of work could not be better. I came of age in the mid-1970's to mid-1980's where a good portion of the novel is based so was able to connect immediately there.
Oh, and a I dislike this new review system. I'm sure it passed all sorts of statistical analysis indicating it would improve responses, but it is really a dumbed-down drag.
dom il Sung
This book is about many things: Its about tedium, attention span, its about the joy of focussing on a task. The agony of drifting focus.
I can see how these thoughts could be the meat of anybody that has to create for a living. In the IRS, he certainly found the best setting to talk about difficult tedious work requiring concentration.
It's like an ADD manifesto, and minefield all in one.
He describes the creative process or should I say the productive working process, his character's motivation and thought processes better than anything I have ever seen. I'm 70% so I don't know if he gets to put it all together at the end. But It is a really amazing Listen.
But I have to say, no Evelyn Wood would ever get me through this thing. Definitely an audible-only recommendation. If you really liked "but eventually you become yourself" you'll love this.
Tedium, trivia and selfconsciousness as the essence of life. Drinian, the android/alien IRS examiner, is one of the most mysterious and compelling literary creations since...oh, don't know, something in Pynchon back when he was hitting all the marks, as is the agent he understands/misunderstans so well. Unfinished, tragically, Imbued with the strangness of the really real, undeniably. Not right or fair in the least that an incredible writer like Wallace is dead. Damn! Damn! Damn!.
This is definitely an UNFINISHED novel. I imagine if DFW knew The Pale King would get published in its obvious infancy, he would have stuck around long enough to finish it or have taken it with him. That said, I'm really glad the publishers took the time and care to give us what they could. There is absolute brilliance in this book that can only make one wonder and fantasize about what the final finished product might have been. If you love and "understand" the author, get this book.
Loved it. Loved the idea of hiding in the details. Loved the prose. Loved the boredom. Loved the floating off the chair, the sweating, the page turning, the meditative breathing... Loved.
Yes, because the point is not just a linear narrative -- lots of things going on that intertwine, and it isn't clear the first time around how that is happening.
I can't help comparing it to other David Foster Wallace books. Any DFW fan would, I think, find this of interest, but the fact that he died before finishing it, and someone else put it together and got it into print makes assessing it problematical.
I haven't listened to any other Robert Petkoss performances, but I liked this one very much.
I was reading the print edition and got bogged down about halfway through. I got this, hoping it would help me get through it, and it did, but the book itself is just -- erratic. Some parts much more interesting than others.
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