This is a 548-page novel which was unfinished at the time of David Foster Wallace’s death in 2008. I could have a go at writing about it from several different angles, but I think it may be most interesting to address the publication of such a work. I felt a bit queasy about reading something over which an author, especially a careful author like DFW, had no final say. On the other hand, I could not make myself give up the opportunity to read more DFW. This was exacerbated by the fact that DFW had chosen to set this novel in the Peoria Regional Examination Center of the IRS, had taken accounting and taxation courses in order to write it, and had been working on it since the publication of his last novel, Infinite Jest, in 1996. Did his literary agent, Bonnie Nadell, and his widow, Karen Green, do the right thing when they delivered hard drives, file folders, three-ring binders, spiral-bound notebooks, floppy disks, sheaves of handwritten pages, notes and more (which filled a duffel bag and two shopping bags) plus a box full of reference books DFW had used. into the hands of the editor who had worked on Infinite Jest? There was little indication of the intended order, and DFW had left a note that the novel was full of “shifting POVs, structural fragmentation, willed incongruities.” Does this mean that it’s OK for an editor to impose an order? The editor says that he made “occasional cuts for sense or pace, or to find an end point for a chapter that trailed off unfinished.” The complete original drafts and entire mass of material will ultimately be made available to the public at the University of Texas, to accompany all of DFW’s other papers.
I agree with the editor, Michael Pietsch, when he says that this incomplete work allows us to “look once more inside that extraordinary mind” and that DFW “set out to write a novel about some of the hardest subjects in the world–sadness and boredom–and to make that exploration nothing less than dramatic, funny, and deeply moving.” He also says, “David, alas, isn’t here to stop us from reading, or to forgive us for wanting to.”
Well, I looked, but I don’t know if I should have.
(“The Pale King” refers to a practice in the IRS Examination Centers of using “desk names,” and “The Pale King” is mentioned as one of them. DFW did choose this title. It’s hard to see, but the image on the cover is of a King of Clubs playing card slit vertically so that lines cut from IRS forms could be woven into it.)
Darn it. I keep forgetting to set the category of my posts to “Winter Reading 2018.” Sorry.
2 comments on “THE PALE KING”
This is interesting – the IRS is not something I find myself reading about but maybe I should 🙂
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You’ve reminded me to send a friend of mine the title and author of this book. I was talking about it and although he agreed that no one would want to read it, he wants to give it a try.
You know how writers are told to show it, not tell it? Well, in parts of the book, he enacts the boredom in the IRS examiners’ work space. Row upon row of identical desks, and the tax returns just keep on coming. If you’re reading a hard copy of the book, you would probably skip past some sections, but if you’re listening to it you have to live through it with the IRS employees. My god. Don’t know if it’s true, but in employee orientation tips for fighting boredom are given. Stop every once in awhile and clench your buttocks. Briefly visualize the place you’d rather be.
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