The Pale King

There’s a powerful and heartbreaking article about David Foster Wallace in the New Yorker that gives frank details about his last few days and discusses the unpublished novel that will be coming out next year. I hadn’t heard anything about “The Pale King” prior to this article and was surprised to read that it’s about a group of employees working for the I.R.S (funny, considering that I pointed out that accounting-related footnote when I read “Brief Interviews”.) From the article:

As Michael Pietsch points out, in choosing the I.R.S. as a subject Wallace had “posed himself the task that is almost the opposite of how fiction works,” which is “leaving out the things that are not of much interest.” Wallace’s solution was to overwhelm his seemingly inert subject with the full movement of his thought. His characters might be low-level bureaucrats, but the robust sincerity of his writing—his willingness to die for the reader—would keep you from condescending to them.


Wallace began the research for “The Pale King” shortly after the publication of “Infinite Jest.” He took accounting classes. He studied I.R.S. publications. “You should have seen him with our accountant,” Karen Green remembers. “It was like, ‘What about the ruling of 920S?’ ” He enjoyed mastering the technicalities of the I.R.S. bureaucracy—its lore, mind-set, vocabulary.

I’m an accountant, but not a tax accountant by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, most people are surprised to learn that an overwhelming amount of accountants know very little beyond the basic tax facts (that’s why we have a tax department at work! that’s why there are people who actually specialize in tax accountancy!), but I totally understand what he could see in focusing on it as a jumping point for his book.

The article is here.

And you can read an excerpt from The Pale King too.

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