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"If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out."
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

David Foster Wallace: THE PALE KING

While this space is usually reserved for my writing about music, I also write about books. I just finished reading the final (and unfinished) novel by the late David Forster Wallace. It is a book that is frequently brilliant and beautiful. It contains Wallace's virtuoso sentences, filled with music and drama, and it features just enough of his ecstatic humor too. But mostly it's an extraordinarily sad book, as he surely intended it to be.

The Pale King is not a book about his death, as so many have been tempted to suggest. But it is obsessed with his own obsession about the disease of self-consciousness, about the dilemma of being trapped inside one's own head, inescapably caught up in one's own do-loop of fears and fears about fears.

The book is set in an IRS Regional Examination Center in the 1980s, and it features a large cast of IRS employees who struggle with the tedium of their jobs. There is even a character referred to as "the author" and named David Wallace who swears that the book is a memoir crafted as a novel for legal reasons. We see these characters stumble through a transition period for the Peoria, IL, REC as new supervisors arrive and begin to implement some kind of change. There's plenty of boring tax talk (which, Wallace makes clear, is purposely boring for you, the reader) but there is also a good amount of mystery and intrigue, not to mention ghosts who haunt the place and long, fascinating stories from the characters' childhoods. Honestly, the book is a mess in many ways—literally cobbled together by Wallace's editor after it was found scattered around his study after his death—but a frequently glorious one.

Read my full PopMatter review of The Pale King HERE.

I miss David Foster Wallace. But it's questionable whether I'll read The Pale King a second time, like I did his masterpiece Infinite Jest (twice). Still, thanks for leaving us a little bit more, Dave.

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