Review: David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest”

by writereaderly

Thank God I’ve finished this. Borrowed from the library with a fourth week of loan wangled, the pressure was on to get this one done and dusted – three solid weeks of reading (almost) nothing but. Infinite Jest clocks at 1079pp (any rumours that it was 1207 pages were entirely my sense of intimidation speaking), and has almost 900pp of 9-point font then about 200pp of 7-point font for footnotes that are crucial to plot development and no margins to speak of. Undoubtedly the fattest book I have ever read. Well done me.

To attempt a summary…

Themes: drugs, obsession, recovery, grammar, suicide, junior tennis, secessionist movements, cartridge entertainments, 12 steps on the stairway to heaven. Doesn’t help you imagine it, does it?

Characters: Too many to list, many of whom have their own chapters/voices/rants – and do so brilliantly.

Style: Speculative, philosophical fiction.

Vocabulary: Far, *far* bigger than mine, which is always exciting.

Structure: So mindbogglingly complex that it took me over 200pp to begin to think I knew where to start working out what the hell was going on to whom with which sporting implement. The 59-word blurb tells you more than you can definitively put together in the first 500-600pp.

It was hard work, and it was complex. You have to work out what the hell the O.N.A.N. is and why there’s a Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment and what it means to get “demapped” or to “promote” something or to get the “howling fantods” (a phrase I plan to use often). It was like accepting a blindfold to walk into a labyrinth designed by someone three times as intelligent as you are on your smartest day ever, and entrusting yourself into those capable and warped and dazzling hands. It’s not the for faint-hearted, but it was ambitious, and witty, and scathing, and dark, and the lacuna between the last page and the first was sloe-black and unsettling and powerful and made me (almost) want to reread it to understand it better. I did reread the first chapter, and may have to do so again before it goes home to the library… just to make sure.

Gird your loincloths, folks, and give it a read, although possibly not with the constraints of a library copy. Methinks you need a book you can read in spurts and doses, for his world is somewhat darkening. And to get some DFW context, you could check out this article on his self-help bookshelf, which a friend happened to link to this week. I’ve read his short stories before and found them too horrifying and unsettling, but I am impatient to get into more of his sublime non-fiction offerings.

PS And just to get this rant in: if I were a writer of the stature and creativity and gargantuan brain of DFW, it would give me the seething fantods that an I’m-so-casual-and-disingenuous prat like Dave Eggers was contracted to write the buymenow preface of a book I’m willing to bet he never read. Tosser. So there.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading: Every bloody opportunity I could find, sometimes engrossed and sometimes bewildered and quickly sleepy
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of:
Who I’d recommend it to: Those after a good, fat intellectual and emotional challenge
Also reading: Eels by James Prosek; Rabbit #5