David Foster Wallace's final unfinished novel The Pale King (2011) was one of the most heralded books of 2011. However, I waited to read it, since I had decided to read one of his earlier books after his death, Oblivion, and that experience left a bad taste in my mouth in that many of the stories were difficult to read, not only because of the writing style, but also in the content of many of the stories. I am happy to say that I enjoyed The Pale King much more in comparison, not to say that it was a perfect novel-it is an unfinished novel and there is some repetition and the whole ebb and flow of the novel has not been completely worked out, but, wow! There are some outstanding passages throughout the novel for example this section that opens Chapter 35:
"My Audit Group's Group Manager and his wife have an infant I can only describe as-fierce,. Its expression is fierce, its demeanor is fierce, its gaze over the bottle or pacifier-fierce, intimidating, aggressive. I have never heard it cry. When it feeds or sleeps, its pale face reddens, which makes it look fiercer. On those workdays when out Group Manager brought it in with him to the District office, hanging papoose-style in a nylon device on his back, the infant appeared to be riding him as a mahout does an elephant. It hung there, radiating authority. Its back lay directly against the Group Manager's, its large head resting in the hollow of its father's head out and down into a posture of classic oppression. They made a beast with two faces, one of which was calm, bland, and adult, and the other unformed and yet emphatically fierce. The infant never wiggled or fussed in this device. Its gaze around the corridor at the rest of us gathered there waiting for the morning elevator was level and unblinking and, it seemed, somehow almost accusing."
One of his themes for the book was boredom and as a result he chose to create a story about IRS tax officials and steeped himself in the language and culture of that organization. He also makes some interesting observations about the phenomena: "Enduring tedium over real time is what real courage is," "The Underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breathe, so to speak, without air," "and "It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish." And I must say that this focus on the IRS did not engage me so much, but his observations about human behaviors within the organization and each other were accurate and enlightening. For example, near the end of the novel he has a large section devotd to a conversation between an office nobody, nonentity and the office beauty that is very revealing about human psychology and group dynamics. It's sad that DFW did not live on to finish this novel, it looks as if it would have been his crowning achievement. But it is not such a bad legacy to have even this much from one of the greatest writers of this generation.