The basis for any story has some key ingredients, there’s some sort of struggle, conflict, reflection, message. The Pale King is a little different to that. Written by David Foster Wallace but published posthumously and unfinished this work of fiction tells us about a number of people working for the American Inland Revenue Service although most of them are interlinked each chapter of varying length can pretty much stand on their own.
The Pale King looks at a number of these tax auditors, why they do the job they do and how they combat the monotony of their work. We have the character of Claude Sylvanshine who through looking at other people’s taxes and minor details, knows so much about people but has no context for it. We we have Leonard Steyck who went so far to be nice to people when he was younger that people hated him for it and we see how he reacted to this. David Wallace himself appears as a character and he tells you to read the small print of the book and we have the peculiar character who is harshly nicknamed the Iranian Crisis (this chapter made me chuckle, you’ll be doing a lot of that). My favourite character of the book is Irrelevant Chris Fogle. We get to read about what made him want to do the job that he now does. His story for me felt really personal and real.
The Pale King is about getting things done by people who have to do it. Unlike the behemoth that is Infinite Jest with its look at people obsessed with distractions and satisfying their own addictions, this book is more about the people who do not wish to have such distractions, who acknowledge that they have a task to do. There’s a story for example about a worker who passes away on the job but nobody notices because they are too focused on their work. There is a little bit of us in both Infinite Jest and the Pale King and Wallace looks at both of these extremes.
The style of the Pale King will be familiar to fans of David Foster Wallace and you can see the development of his quality of work from his earlier novel Broom of the System and his earlier short stories. I of course love the book, Wallace makes what should be the most boring thing interesting to read. What I will say however, as with Infinite Jest, try and get a physical copy of the book over the digital format. It is easier to navigate as you will be also going through Wallace’s end notes which reappear in this book as well. Try to avoid the audio book as well if you want to know what is said in the end notes.