The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel by David Foster Wallace

“How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.”

This is an incomplete novel by David Foster Wallace that was released posthumously. It’s sometimes dazzling and other times tedious. I would never, ever recommend it to anyone but a hardcore David Foster Wallace fan. It’s in such a specific style, and tries to make you feel the banality that its characters live and grow in, which makes for an interesting experiment which is occasionally (intentionally) mind-numbing to read. Like with all of DFW’s works, though, the words are put together with tremendous skill, and can crackle in your skull and leave you thinking days after you put the book down.

“To be, in a word, unborable…. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”

The Pale King takes place in the IRS (the Internal Revenue Service) and I appreciated that aspects of life which are often ignored — taxes, social malaise, the difficulty of true acceptance — are put under the microscope, as seemingly unrelated events slide in and out of view at random. The fragmented chapters leave you disorientated, as though they’re dozens of short-stories rather than one interconnected narrative. Reading this is like having hurried, interesting conversations with strangers, trying to work past their defences so you can figure out what it is they want to really talk about.

It’s unfinished (there are a number of plot threads which are brought up and never addressed, although potentially by design), but the thesis here is vital: real adulthood can involve tedium, and frustration, and that both these things are intensely important for becoming quote-unquote mature. Without the ability to sit and think in silence, even when doing so is uncomfortable and draining and painful, the world will grind you to dust.

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