Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Mike’s review

Good foreword, Dave Eggers. I’m excited and a little nervous.

“The sun like a sneaky keyhole view of hell.”

A safety, two reserve guards and cash for a punter? No wonder the Cardinals suck. HA! Even for the greatest punter ever, that’s a bit much. Unless you’re the 49ers and exist solely to play special teams. HA! again. Go Pack Go!

DFW forgets to mention that the giant-ass Arizona roaches fucking fly, like goddamned movie monster mutants. Otherwise, very accurate description. Though it seems pretty near impossible to casually trap one of those beasts under a glass. Umm, yeah, so he later goes on to talk about New Orleans roaches, which can fly, which implies Arizona roaches cannot, but rest assured, those fuckers fly. The flying roach/mucous-feeding/floating bodies paragraph is one of the most disturbing paragraphs I’ve ever read. It’s 8:50 a.m. and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it all day now.

I’m big enough to say it: this many footnotes (endnotes?) in a paragraph gets a little tedious. Especially when the footnotes have their own footnotes.

That what went wrong with Facetime section seems incredibly accurate, though I’ve heard none of these complaints (I kinda hate the phone cuz I need to fully engage with whatever I’m doing).

Footnote 110 is only tangentially (Hal would have a better word) related to the text, but I’m quite glad it existed.

I don’t know how I became so vested in this game of Exchaton (though, oddly, I think it may have been when it was revealed that Steeply was there, giving the game certain ambiguous Real World Stakes).

The book is dense and very much it’s own world, so the more I read (like hours in a day), the more I enjoy it.

“Part of finally getting comfortable in Boston AA is just finally running out of steam in terms of trying to figure stuff like this out.” Is this what you’re doing to me DFW with 30ish pages about a meeting, but really meetings in general?

I get the endnotes to “break up linear structure” and it’s fine; I kinda like them really. But to have these big moments left of cliffhangers and then ignored (i.e. the Eschaton fallout, Pemulis walking in on John (n.r.) Wayne and Avril) when elsewhere you’re devoting large sections  to like the childhoods of small characters is maddening. (And yes, the language is creeping into my existence. “Like,” said “driving  me bats” yesterday.)

Infinite Jest is a book, meant to entertain and thereby cannot be fully against escapism (though much of the novel is spent dealing with hazards of Entertainment/entertainment and drugs/alcohol) and I think DFW was more than likely smart enough to realize this. Which is the conundrum of its own existence that I love, but I don’t think DFW ever quite fully realizes this in the print.

It needed another 300 pages, which I know sounds crazy when you look at it. I get that ending 3/4 of the way through is kinda like, “eh, none of it really fucking matters” anhedonia, but dammit, it was entertaining and if you’re gonna bring espionage and secret government ops into it, follow through (and I know that my frustration is supposed to exist and there’s a certain reward in that, but I think the same frustration can still be achieved and a whole story told). The cynicism of ending 3/4 of the way through: “Fuck it. None of it matters anyways” without the presentation of the joke/jest (which can be symbolized in Hal’s hysteria, but it doesn’t seem like a realized hysteria (as in epiphany not painted picture)).

Here’s how I would have wrote it: Finish the damn story. Whether or not Entertainment is real or has a cure is irrelevant, what happens to Hal is irrelevant, if Gately gets out of condition is irrelevant, just finish the damn story then end with a footnote. 389 It’s all a fucking joke.

It drives me bats that I can’t fully recommend this because I feel so unsatisfied at the conclusion. It’s too big of an endeavor for most people to take on and then be left feeling like this. It’s fine for me because I barely work and have little of a life, but it did take me several weeks of doing little else but reading. I enjoyed those weeks, but I can’t guarantee you will. But it is good and it is fun, but it leaves me wanting more in a way that isn’t exactly good. Except that I will probably read more DFW now.

What’s really frustrating is that I want to recommend it just so I can talk about it because I feel like it needs to be released from within me, but I try to be a nice guy and so I won’t. If any of our 3 readers have read this, please please please say something in the comments.

Valerie’s response
HA! To be nervous when starting a book is a funny thought. But a book that big can be daunting. So actually, it’s brave of you to go for it. I have avoided many Russian novels due to their size. Nerves and guilt plague me about the Brothers Karamazov I’ve used for a doorstop for 16 years.I don’t know what you are referring to literature-wise here but am glad to see you are still a Packer fan despite your out-of-state status. I grew up outside Green Bay and thus my blood runs green and gold.

Hehehe, only Bahl would notice what DFW forgot to mention in such a ginormous book (regarding roaches, ugh). What is it about insects that get our minds going creepy crawly back to the images all day? I want to read that paragraph. Or maybe I don’t.

Footnotes on footnotes? That is very unappealing. I am turned off! One or two in a novel, I can say, ‘haha, good joke.’ Too many and I get really grumpy. Junot Diaz in “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”  is case in point, I abandoned it for weeks. Novels are for entertainment and shouldn’t be so much work. I can be a lazy reader, I admit… thus avoiding those big books in the first place…

Don’t know what your notes are referring to for a few graphs there… Facetime, Footnote 110, Eschaton… if I read it, I will check back to see wtf you are talking about.

I always enjoy a book that successfully creates another world. That is why I like to read in general, I think. Being able to experience other places and lives. The best writers make it effortless to imagine.

“…language creeping into my existence” – that’s good mostly, right? Grows your vocab. But I know what you mean, I often find myself accidentally quoting TV and movies, stealing the best lines. Too bad my partner usually watches the same shit as me and so knows where I pull stuff from. Thus I can’t impress him with my quick wit.

“anhedonia” – had to look it up. Nice word.

DFW had mental problems as indicated by his suicide. Perhaps he was a bit sociopathic to put readers through such an unsatisfying read, as you describe it. Critics seem to think it was a literary event that changed fiction, which may be a generous allowance. I like your approach to finishing the story and ending with a footnote explaining it all was a joke — but that wouldn’t be representative of the author.

I have read some of his short stories and really loved them (The Girl with the Curious Hair). I will read more by him, as we have a collection called Oblivion on our shelves. Infinite Jest might have to wait but I will attempt it sometime. (Still have to get through Indian Killer, which has been following me around with its ominous cover.) I am curious about DFW’s posthumously published book The Pale King, which was pieced together by his editor. It sounds like it would be similarly unsatisfying as Infinite Jest, but his piles of perfect pearls pieced together make the prose pleasure in itself, which is a reward of a different kind. 

Mike’s response

I only work 20 hours a week or so. Bravery isn’t the correct b-word (it’s boredom).

Roaches (and bugs in general) don’t really bug me. Snakes. Even just typing that word made me shiver.

Facetime is a real-world thing. DFW never uses that word. Like with the forward-facing cameras on iphones. Skype and whatnot. The argument is basically, no one likes it because the phone is meant to be done distractedly and if the other party can see you doing whatever it is you do while on the phone, they will be none too happy.

Unfortunately, I think they only word I actually learned from this book was fantod. DFW either made up or lacked many word and I grew frustrated looking them up with a poor internet connection and mostly stopped. Anhedonia is his word.

I’d say between the ages of 14-25, I never once uttered an original sentence. I still quote fervently, generally without citation. Once you recognize what I’m doing, I usually like you.

Maybe this a common practice (it must be because I’m not usually especially intelligent here), but what I do with footnotes is use my bookmark to mark where I am in the footnotes while reading and then slip it back to the main text while immersed in the notes. Which is why the notes on notes became tedious.

No way was this some groundbreaking gamechanger. Nothing really is though, so I can’t fault DFW there.

I know the joke wouldn’t be representative of DFW the person, but I think DFW the author may be different. Or I wanted him to be different. (Because to write the ending as I wanted it wouldn’t be representative of me as a person, but I think I could bring myself to do it as an author. Hard to say though. It would still be an ending that drives most people nuts. Because I want him to keep going, at least another 300 pages, but probably more like 500-10000 is what he would use, and then negate the whole fucking trip.) He nails Depression descriptions in a way I could never hope to, which is crazy. Generally, for me, creativity is dead then and there’s no way to properly represent it once out of the throes. Perhaps hindsight is 20/20, but I don’t know how you could read those sections and not foresee his suicide, or at least Depression.

I know you haven’t read this, so there’s not much to talk about, but I want to talk right now in general and this book needs talking about as well, so I’m mingling the needs.


3 thoughts on “Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

  1. Pingback: World’s End by T.C. Boyle | The Heart of Literature

  2. Pingback: Girl With Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace | The Heart of Literature

  3. Pingback: Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland | The Heart of Literature

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