My first impulse after finishing this epic was to comb the internet for theories and other data regarding the novel's ending. I realized it'...moreHoly shit.
My first impulse after finishing this epic was to comb the internet for theories and other data regarding the novel's ending. I realized it's kind of a forest-for-the-trees kind of deal:
In Infinite Jest, Hugh Steeply's father becomes disastrously obsessed with M*A*S*H. He records every episode and keeps an entire room's worth of journals filled with cross-referenced timelines, character evaluations, and conspiracy theories. This obsession doesn't end well for him or his family.
There is a lot going on in IJ, and the need to connect every hint and finish the scavenger hunt can be misleading. The danger of the novel is its cyclical pull, the desire to read and re-read until all loose ends are tied. I don't think the novel's title is shared with the samizdat accidentally.
My advice to anyone who's read IJ is to let those maddening carrots go for awhile. To really consider the amazing importance of the real messages instead of turning IJ into an episode of Scooby Doo.
Every character (and as we later see, every object) in Infinite Jest is important. There are no figurants here. While the weaving between time periods and characters (many of whom seem to be extras at first) may seem disjointing to some people, the interconnectedness of everyone in the novel is essential to one of its central themes. There is a major argument against solipsism here (which critics find in most of Wallace's work). Wallace somehow managed to create dozens of characters with nearly unbelievable backgrounds and in incredible circumstances, characters we somehow learn to identify with. This identification is serious business; all of the book's talk of AA and other programs emphasizes the necessity of sharing honest emotion and identifying with others. Not just empathizing with, but identifying with. Identifying the generally lonely and solitary existence (a "hell for one") we all somehow share. The book's first and last scenes reassure you that you're never the first, you're never the last. Hal's musings towards the end of the novel, his experiencing the accumulated energy of all of the kids who have ever showered, stretched, and been taped-up in the locker room, add to this feeling of timelessness. I kind of feel like Wallace is saying that if the human condition is misery, then misery is shared, and at least you're not alone.
That being said, there really is a lot to digest along the way, and even an attentive reader will miss stuff. I just finished an hour ago and I feel like starting all over again. There is a lot of talk about Wallace's missing editor, and the seemingly egregious amount of footnotes, but there is no wasted space in IJ. Much of what is in the footnotes is a deft way of revealing backstory or detail through outside sources (the filmography, the essay on Le Culte du Prochain Train).
IJ is about communication, and how rare and difficult it is to truly speak. It's about misery, and loneliness, and sharing those feelings along with the good. About Identifying. It's about addiction, and the soullessness of entities like a government, and giving yourself away. It's about asking for help. It's about art (I couldn't help thinking Wallace's ficitional criticisms of Incandenza's films were reflections of his feelings about his own merits as a writer). It is about some truly screwed up families.
It's a beautiful novel, much more easily read than its bulk suggests. I could write a book as long as Infinite Jest /about/ Infinite Jest.(less)
Lethem uses physics as a literary device without it turning into a gimmick, and his science enlightens the story rather than unnecessarily complicatin...moreLethem uses physics as a literary device without it turning into a gimmick, and his science enlightens the story rather than unnecessarily complicating it. Phillip and Alice seem unwholesome as a couple, but the dynamic of the two blind characters, which also seems destructive at first, eventually mirrors their relationship and confronts the issues of need, trust, self-loathing, insecurity, isolation, and communication.
This book also has a momentum which carried me through without ever tripping me. Not to say it was Patterson-esque; it just developed very fluidly.(less)
**spoiler alert** This book felt like seeing the ferris wheel collapse at a county fair. For nearly the book's length, it was fun, quirky, and questy,...more**spoiler alert** This book felt like seeing the ferris wheel collapse at a county fair. For nearly the book's length, it was fun, quirky, and questy, which Japanese antihero charm; when the book climaxes, it says: "BEHOLD THE EMPTINESS OF LIFE." Fuck you and your quest and your weird-eared girlfriend, all you have amounts to nothing.
Which is not to say it was disappointing- not in the least. It was actually a refreshing turn that had me reconsidering the entire book. Admittedly I was a bit depressed, but I thought about my favorite topic, trajectories, for some time afterward. Nothing like the absence of potential to motivate you.(less)
Only three chapters in, but so far Mieville has me good. A city Lovecraft and Cronenberg would be comfortable in, a rogue scientist... I'll just stop...moreOnly three chapters in, but so far Mieville has me good. A city Lovecraft and Cronenberg would be comfortable in, a rogue scientist... I'll just stop right there. Enough said.(less)
The work of Carlos Wieder haunts me, the banality of it, the ferocity of it. Bolaño weaves something like a detective story, something like a nightmar...moreThe work of Carlos Wieder haunts me, the banality of it, the ferocity of it. Bolaño weaves something like a detective story, something like a nightmare, and the lonely sad tone of an exile permeates this novella. It feels like an epitaph to the arts (to poetry) from a man who had all the beauty of his craft stolen from him (as in a literal sense occurs in Distant Star).(less)
The Terminal Beach and The Atrocity Exhibition alone make this collection worth having. A majority of the stories included experiment with time in som...moreThe Terminal Beach and The Atrocity Exhibition alone make this collection worth having. A majority of the stories included experiment with time in some fashion; the reading experience is disorienting to say the least. But, you know, in a good way.
Some of the most terrestrial and meaty sci-fi I have read. Even when dealing with the fluid and variable nature of time, the stories are grounded and personal, human. All very atmospheric as well. They'll stick with you.(less)