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Extended Audio Sample The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (5,117 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: David Foster Wallace Narrator: Robert Petkoff Publisher: Hachette Book Group Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Center in Peoria, Illinois, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Foster 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 compelling 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 value of work and society—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 one of the most daring writers of our time.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Deeply sad, deeply philosophical…By turns breathtakingly brilliant and stupefying dull—funny, maddening and elegiac…in almost everything Wallace wrote, including The Pale King, he aimed to use words to lasso and somehow subdue the staggering, multifarious, cacophonous predicament that is modern American life.”

    New York Times

  • “Feverishly encompassing, sharply comedic, and haunting…this is not a novel of defeat but, rather, of oddly heroic persistence…electrifying in its portrayal of individuals seeking unlikely refuge in a vast, absurd bureaucracy. In the spirit of Borges, Gaddis, and Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Wallace conducts a commanding and ingenious inquiry into monumental boredom, sorrow, the deception of appearances, and the redeeming if elusive truth that any endeavor, however tedious, however impossible, can become a conduit to enlightenment.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “It doesn’t matter that the novel is unfinished. Read its chapters in random order and you’ll still be amazed by the talent. If you read only half of what is there it would be one of the best reads you’ve had in a long time. There are geniuses and there are geniuses. David Foster Wallace is both, and The Pale King is a testament to that…One of the most influential literary voices of our times.”

    USA Today

  • “Transfixing and hyper-literate…Nothing short of sublime…Achingly funny…Pants-pissingly hilarious.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • The Pale King dares to plunge readers into this Dantean hell of ‘crushing boredom,’ suggesting that something good may lie beyond…It uses the IRS as a metaphor for american sadness and loss, and American heart too…The Pale King glimmers and sparkles.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “Wallace’s finest work as a novelist…when Wallace steers the tanker back to its theme—the struggle to extract meaning from each second that passes, no matter how empty or lonely or indistinguishable from the second that came before itThe Pale King achieves power levels that Wallace never reached in his first two novels…His ability to render the fine finials and fractals and flourishes of a mind acting upon itself, from moment to moment, using only the blunt, numb instruments of language, has few if any equals in American literature.”


  • “Amazing.”


  • “Wallace transforms this driest of settings into a vivid alternate IRS universe, full of jargon and lore and elaborately behatted characters, many of them with weird afflictions and/or puzzling supernatural abilities…Brilliant and bizarre.”

    Entertainment Weekly

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • One of the 2011 Bookpage Most Anticipated Book
  • A Kirkus Reviews “New and Notable Title”, April 2011
  • A 2011 Library Journal Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2011 NPR Best Book for Fiction
  • A 2011 Time Magazine Top 10 Book for Fiction
  • A 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Fiction
  • A 2011 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Akiva | 2/2/2014

    " This contains a really fantastic collection of short stories. Unfortunately, is is a novel and it is unfinished (rest in peace DFW). It is definitely worth reading, but I felt like the parts that weren't super focused vignettes kind of dragged on. The more focused stuff was all fantastic and obviously all of David Foster Wallace's sentences are glorious diamonds or sapphires and the occasional giant perfect artificial diamond, so if you need some of that sweet DFW flavor The Pale King will provide. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Dyan | 2/2/2014

    " not his best, but entertaining "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Adrienne | 1/31/2014

    " I kind of hate this book. It is really, really unfinished. It just feels like death all over again. But so beautiful... and giving it less than five stars would just be unthinkable. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Jesse | 1/31/2014

    " some hilarious short chapters and some really dull long ones that mostly rehash Infinite Jest material right down to the meaningfully bizarre dad-death "

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