The Pale King

  • by David Foster Wallace
  • Narrated by Robert Petkoff
  • 19 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Downloadable audio edition of David Foster Wallace's final and most ambitious undertaking - an audacious and hilarious look into the abyss of ordinary life. The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Centre in Peoria, IL, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David 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 intriguing 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 ultimate value of work and family - 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 a writer who dared to take on the most daunting subjects the human spirit can imagine.

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What the Critics Say

"We can imagine his fiction and essays as the scroll fragments of a distant future. He did not channel his talents to narrower patterns. He wanted to be equal to the vast, babbling, spin-out sweep of contemporary culture." (Don DeLillo)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Pale, but interesting

Despite the fact this book is chiefly about boredom (and we are given some very in-depth accounts of the kind of tedium its characters experience), it somehow manages to be one of the funniest books I've read or listened to for quite a while. Much of this comes from the way the author has injected humour in the most unexpected places, and from his wholly original approach to characters and situations. In this it is reminiscent of "Catch 22", although the two are very different books in most respects.

Robert Petkoff makes a marvellous job of reading the text, managing to handle multiple voices in very impressive fashion. If you enjoy the book as much as I did, you may also want to get hold of a copy of the print edition which includes numerous footnotes which it would have been impossible to include in the audiobook version. These add some interesting insights, as do a selection of notes that give an indication of David Foster Wallace's intentions for the final shape of the book.

Famously incomplete at the author's death, what we have here feels like only about 80-90% of the intended work, but, largely due I am sure to the excellent job the editor has done in assembling drafts, fragments etc, and above all to DFW's supreme gift of being able to delineate the human condition extraordinarily precisely, what we are presented with in this form is very close to being a hugely successful whole.

If it gets boring, stick with it - it'll get hilarious soon enough.
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- Colin

Boring, I'm afraid

I taught Beckett's Waiting for Godot and En Attendant Godot for years, solemnly telling my pupils that 'it dealt with the theme of boredom, but it wasn't boring', then I saw it on stage.....it was dreadful.
Similarly, The Pale King is proclaimed in the same terms and David Foster-Wallace heralded as a lost genius; 'fraid not, in this reviewer's humble opinion, the Emperor has no clothes. It deals with boredom and IS mind-numbingly boring as a result.
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- Patrick

Book Details

  • Release Date: 13-04-2011
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd