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.
When I read Marc Headley’s book about his early time in the Sea Org of the Church of Scientology, he writes about how he stumbled across a man not in uniform sitting back reading a magazine when everybody else was working. This man introduces himself as Jesse Prince and little did Marc know at the time, Jesse Prince was not just any slacking Sea Org member, this was once one of the highest ranking Sea Org members. This is Jesse Prince’s experience with the Church.
Unlike Marc who spent most of his time in Golden Era Productions the publishing arm of Scientology (with respect to it media and publications), Jesse was also part of the Religious Technology Centre which saw (and still does) the running of Scientology. Unlike Marc, Jesse did not grow up with Scientology (he tells us briefly of his time in growing up in Illinois with the racism he came across and to put it plainly.. that he had a busy sex life). Jesse gets approached by a young lady promoting Scientology, he listens to what she has to say because he fancies her goes down the rabbit hole of Scientology. He should have been joining the US Navy but instead makes a decision that would change his life for ever. (Not quite related to this here, I wonder if getting attractive people for recruitment is a deliberate thing. I once met a Latter Day Saints/Mormon missionary in town once and my lord was she attractive, I was seconds away from booking a flight to Salt Lake.. Anyway I digress, back to the blog).
What I found interesting was with respect to Scientology courses and auditing, it is mentioned how the courses and auditing did have a way of making you believe it had some positive effect. Which it may well have. Scientology does appear to give a good first impression and to a point it appears to help people (I wouldn’t know myself I’ve never tried but when people see instant results, you can see how people are enthralled by it).
Once Jesse joins the Sea Org, encouraged to so by others and goes through the courses offered by Scientology and becomes an expert in dispensing what Scientology calls ‘Technology’ (like a Scientology priest but not quite, no masses for example), he would become an expert witness for Scientology in court cases. Prince was in the Sea Org during the transition period from L. Ron Hubbard’s time as leader to David Miscavige’s. He saw it all happen. What surprised me is that after reading Marc Headley’s book where David Miscavige is the head, the ‘Chairman of the Board of the Religious Technology Center’ and is portrayed as incredibly unforgiving and ruthless, Jesse Prince writes about an earlier time where Hubbard was still leader and David Miscavige was kinder gentler soul if albeit learning all of Hubbard’s method of leadership after being a Commodore’s Messenger (who acted like Hubbard’s extended eyes, ears and voice). Prince saw Miscavige as like being a younger brother. We see Miscavige as loyal to his friends, a bit more vulnerable but still intense when it comes to being loyal to Scientology. As Jesse writes however this would all change, to Jesse Prince’s and many other’s expense.
When Jesse Prince started at the Sea Org, Hubbard is in hiding and didn’t want to be seen as being the leader of Scientology (tax reasons) but is still defacto leader through messages called ‘advices’. Prince writes how the Hubbard of this time isn’t the Hubbard of the books and courses thinking people are out to get him, purging people he didn’t like out of the Church.
Prince’s book is also a confessional of sorts. He tells us of the times when he was implicit in taking on the Church’s enemies, mostly what Hubbard would call the Squirells (like Scientologist who split from the original Church, Scientology protestants if you will). One of the hardest things to read about was when he was sent to convince Hubbard’s daughter to give her child over Scientology when she wanted to leave. That felt like an awful thing to go through and Jesse Prince’s regret is visible and is quite an emotional thing to read.
What I also found hard to believe is when Prince writes about Hubbard’s death, his situation and the negligence around him at the time. This was meant to be the top man, the messiah and yet he was deteriorating slowly both mentally and physically.
Prince tells us also about the time leading to him leaving (I assume this is when Headley met him not knowing who he truly was). Prince also tells us about how helped others after leaving and seeing the tactics used by Scientology he saw when on the other side.
I was genuinely taken aback by the stories in Prince’s book. How far Hubbard and Miscavige would go to achieve their objectives and how unforgiving they could be. Prince also reminds us however, that there are some genuinely nice people in Scientology as well who would do what is expected of them.
I won’t go on too much about his time after leaving Scientology and his association with the Lisa McPherson Trust, I’ll leave that Jesse Prince himself when you read the book for yourself. I will say that it’s beggars belief that people could be like that (I’m not talking about Jesse here obviously) as well as his life afterwords
Expert Witness has been one of my favourite Scientology related books I’ve read. I would like to know what someone who has never heard of Scientology would think of this book, what I read about particular people in it I have come across in other books about Scientology and I already had some sort of knowledge about them. Marty Rathbun in particular who Jesse Prince does have some opinions about, especially how he compares things differently from Marty. Jesse also avoids ‘Scientology speak’ where at all possible. There is also an appendix showing when Jesse Prince was used as expert witness in Scientology related court cases.
Prince should be proud of what he has written. He comes across as a genuine no nonsense guy and I imagine it was hard for him to bring back old memories of his time associated with the Church and to put it in this book. A marvellous achievement.