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The Pale King | [David Foster Wallace]

The Pale King

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....
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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (131 )
5 star
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3 star
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4.0 (98 )
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1 star
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Story
4.4 (97 )
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3 star
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2 star
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  •  
    T. C. Pile Millwood, NY 09-26-11
    T. C. Pile Millwood, NY 09-26-11 Member Since 2004

    audiobookaholic

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "David Foster Wallace Lives"

    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.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeffrey Dame Scottsdale, Az 09-02-11
    Jeffrey Dame Scottsdale, Az 09-02-11 Listener Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Welcome to the machine"
    If you could sum up The Pale King in three words, what would they be?

    Brilliant, excruciating minutia


    What did you like best about this story?

    DFW


    What about Robert Petkoff???s performance did you like?

    Flawless, clean narration


    If you could rename The Pale King, what would you call it?

    Bang Your Head Against The Wall


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    13 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan C. S. Eastern Pennsylvania, USA 07-01-11
    Susan C. S. Eastern Pennsylvania, USA 07-01-11 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A tour de force by the reader."

    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.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    dd Pyong-Yang, WA USA 06-07-11
    dd Pyong-Yang, WA USA 06-07-11 Member Since 2001

    dom il Sung

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not perfect but very good"

    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.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stephen P. McSweeney Hastings-On-Hudson, New York United States 06-02-12
    Stephen P. McSweeney Hastings-On-Hudson, New York United States 06-02-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Compelling Profound Book about Tedium"

    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!.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Swad Los Angeles 07-12-11
    Swad Los Angeles 07-12-11 Member Since 2006

    swadmeister

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I'll Take It Over no-DFW"

    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.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    01-16-13
    01-16-13 Member Since 2005
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    "My Second Reading by DFW"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sara Anchorage, AK, United States 02-26-12
    Sara Anchorage, AK, United States 02-26-12 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Too much disconnected information."
    Would you try another book from David Foster Wallace and/or Robert Petkoff?

    Don't think I would.


    What was most disappointing about David Foster Wallace’s story?

    Never quite got to a point to pull my interest. Each time I got into the story, it wandered away.


    What three words best describe Robert Petkoff’s voice?

    Long, long descriptions.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    No.


    Any additional comments?

    Very disappointed.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cathy Fort Bragg, CA, United States 12-12-11
    Cathy Fort Bragg, CA, United States 12-12-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Narrator sounds a lot like DFW himself"
    Would you listen to The Pale King again? Why?

    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.


    What other book might you compare The Pale King to and why?

    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.


    Have you listened to any of Robert Petkoff’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I haven't listened to any other Robert Petkoss performances, but I liked this one very much.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Greg Wilson 01-08-12
    Greg Wilson 01-08-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Unintelligible rambling"

    Perhaps I'm just not hip enough to "get" DFW but this book was just a waste of my time and credit. Unless you enjoy explorations of nihilism don't wast your credit.

    3 of 8 people found this review helpful
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