Continued from Part One.
Reviewing Infinite Jest is proving to be possibly more difficult than reading it.
This is such an unconventional book. If I’m honest with you, I didn’t understand all of it. But I doubt anyone does on a first read-through. Three days after finishing, I’m still thinking about it, trying to run through plot connections in my head.
A friend told me that Infinite Jest is really a book that needs to be read more than once. A 1,000 page book that needs to be read again? Really? For now, I’ll have to pass on reading this one again. But I know I’ll be thinking about it for awhile.
Reading Infinite Jest is like being transported into another universe–not unlike Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Of course, it’s set in a world we know, but it’s a massive world filled with deep, moving characters. Hal, Orin, Gately, Himself, the Moms, Joelle–the list goes on.
What just happened?
That’s the first question I asked myself after reading the final word of Infinite Jest. And while that might seem like a bad question to be asking oneself at the end of a 1,000 page book, it wasn’t unexpected.
I’m not sure I could count how many times I asked myself “What just happened?” while reading David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece over the last six weeks. It happened, like, a bunch of times–enough to be qualified as a recurring theme in my head.
It happened enough for me to say Infinite Jest is supremely frustrating at times–the loose, non-linear plot, the $10 words, the pure effort that the book takes to read.
But is that the point? Is that what David Foster Wallace was after? Did he want to make you work your butt off to read this book?
If you’re a bit burned out on the Infinite Jest discussion on 101 Books, then fear not: Next week I’ll be starting a new book. But, this week, I’m cleaning out the blogging file related to DFW’s masterpiece. My two-part review starts tomorrow.
Here’s a roughly edited interview with DFW, in which he discusses the use of dark humor and irony in literature, as well as a few thoughts on Infinite Jest. I like the quote, “Irony is the song of a bird that has come to love its cage.”
Towards the end of the interview, I think we also hear the main idea of Infinite Jest–the faulty and sad view that “there is no larger good than your own good and your own happiness.” Take that, Ayn Rand.
Part of the beauty of Infinite Jest is David Foster Wallace’s ability to go in-depth about all sorts of seemingly random subjects. With 1,100 pages (including footnotes), he has plenty of room to do so.
My review will be coming later this week, but I thought I’d give you a quick glance at few things you’ll learn about while reading Infinite Jest–if you dare take the challenge:
Look at the size of that beast.
Everybody’s got one–that book on the shelf, the one you bought 3 years ago, back when you really said you were going to read that 400 pager, and you really meant it.
But after page 50, you got a little bored, maybe a little overwhelmed, so you sat it back on the bookshelf–and there it stayed, staring you down, mocking you.
For me, that book was Infinite Jest. It wasn’t literally on my shelf, but it’s been a part of my reading to-do list for years now. A good friend and big Infinite Jest fan has been singing its praises to me for a decade, but I couldn’t get motivated to read it. Have you seen the size of this book?
The more you read Infinite Jest, the more aware you are of David Foster Wallace as an astute observer of human nature.
Even beyond Infinite Jest, this is evident in his essay about taking a cruise or his commencement speech at Kenyon College. If I can quickly steal DFW’s writing style, I would say, “The guy was like perceptive.”
One passage jumped out at me the other night. The main character, Hal Incandenza, is having a conversation with his handicapped brother, Mario (nicknamed Boo). They are discussing the different methods people use to lie:
If Infinite Jest was a half-marathon, I’d be somewhere around mile 11, just past the last water station, hamstrings tight, feet sore, sweat poring, and trying to will myself to the finish line.
As this week starts, that’s where I sit with Infinite Jest–now on page 822. I’m ready, seriously ready to finish this book. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve really enjoyed reading and writing about this book on the blog.
But it’s been 5 or 6 weeks now (I’ve lost count), and I’m ready for something new. This leads me to ask one question–is Infinite Jest too long?
I have now seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled suntan lotion spread over 2,100 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as “Mon” in three different nations. I have seen 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced. I have (very briefly) joined in a conga line.
Not long before Infinite Jest was published, Harper’s Magazine gave David Foster Wallace a “plush” assignment: Go on a cruise and write about it. The preceding paragraph is how his essay about the experience opens.
The piece was originally titled “Shipping Out” but was renamed to “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” when it appeared in his book of essays by the same name.
David Foster Wallace (why do I always feel obligated to say his full name?) was known to be a bit of a grammar nerd. His mother taught English in college, so he grew up in a house where proper English was militantly stressed. He taught writing and literature at Pomona College for many years before he died.
I thought we’d have a little fun today and take one of DFW’s grammar tests that I found online–over at HTML Giant.
Sadly, I only got 5 of 10, and I write English for a living and fake my way as a copyeditor on occasion. How well can you do? Determine what’s wrong with each sentence. Go here for the answers.
Here’s how DFW opens his quiz: “IF NO ONE HAS YET TAUGHT YOU HOW TO AVOID OR REPAIR CLAUSES LIKE THE FOLLOWING, YOU SHOULD, IN MY OPINION, THINK SERIOUSLY ABOUT SUING SOMEBODY, PERHAPS AS CO-PLAINTIFF WITH WHOEVER’S PAID YOUR TUITION”
The plot is starting to develop.
Yes, I’m 500 pages into this book, and the plot is starting to develop.
I’m trusting that David Foster Wallace knows what he’s doing. To this point, it seems that the first half of the novel is focused on character development—the focal points being Hal Incandenza at the Enfield Tennis Academy, Don Gately at a Boston Drug Rehab Center, a guy named Marathe who is part of a group of wheelchair terrorists, and a “quadruple agent” (pretending to pretend to be a double agent) named Steeply who is dressed in drag.