Tal's Reviews > Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
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Jul 29, 08

Read in July, 2008

It was a year ago, almost to the day.

I was sitting on the southeast corner of 54th & Park; the first day I worked with Simon, king crawdaddy of the axe slayers, hardhat in hand shining like an unpeeled orange in the sun. Opened up the book and page one was already impenetrable and confounding. Tried to read a couple pages and put it down--looked over at Sy, did a children’s puzzle book to hair metal bands. Two weeks of non-stop conversations with a guy I now barely talk to. Then I quit my job.

It was a year ago, almost to the day.

I was sitting in my room. It was hot. Damn hot. Plastic vines, ivy, bushels, the checkerwork of leaves. No wise shoulders, just the imitation greenery adorning the corners and edges of my blanched windowsill. Small towel wrapped around my neck, pouring sweat. Damn hot.

I was unemployed, no air conditioner nor a foreseeable future in any sort of writing career. I had come to New York City just shy of a year earlier, and there I was sitting soaked in my own grease with nothing to show for it but twenty-odd reviews and a couple essays. That’s it.

And that’s where I began, reading page after page, complex word after real talk after fractured idioms. But forcing myself to read, in that teal sofa chair with the Ottoman—supported by flimsy wheels. Yom Kippur I didn’t do anything but sit in that chair and just pound away, tearing through 200 pages like it was nothing. Smoking cigarettes until my face went gray. Listening to Tusk and Burial and walking to Tom’s in the noontime, snug in a booth eating eggs bathed in hot sauce while foggy swing music faintly played in the corners. Daydreaming through an acne-scarred visage, imagining halos.



It’s weird, right when I finished round one of IJ my life turned around. Completely. New job, love, writing in bigger outlets and getting noticed in places I thought I never would. EMP. The stars began to align, images began to tessellate where once they were a broken jigsaw. And what I couldn’t understand was, had IJ changed my luck because I had read it, or had I changed my luck by putting down the accursed book?

I’ve spent the past year reading IJ, twice over. August 1 to November 15 and then April ‘til now, both times in doses with other books interspersed between and each time with all the footnotes. No hyperbole (well, except the five stars, but that’s to denote its significance, not as a work so much as a time in my life, a time in my life in which I had to figure out just when am I going to stop wallowing in the sounds pocketed in nooks and crannies of the recorded universe, letting notes flow in and out, seeping in juice—how much longer would I wait before my hands reached out and GRABBED what they wanted), no bullshit.

Many days I would just look down at my bulky paperback copy and bristle. Often I dreaded reading it, and would subsequently divert my attention to films. I plowed through Netflix envelopes like junk mail, devouring Ophuls and Godard and Kiarostami. So I read without enjoyment, pining for more film-watching, begrudging my state even as I was relishing my freedom. Then I got a full-time job, read more books, and tried again. Apparently, lifestyle makes a big difference.

If IJ reflects anything about how we live today—at least in the eyes of this tiny reader—it’s that there’s just too much: too many people, too much art, too many products. And so the length here is justified, because it takes something of this breadth and this disruption and this understanding of…excess, that the real perspicacious observation is not trying to encompass all of it but to parse what is the essence of what’s underneath. Which is us. As the world becomes increasingly variegated, where information is filtered through sundry jargon ranging from slang to chemical equations and technical argot, we begin to understand less--and not just about the world, but also about each other. How we interact with one another. IJ’s fascination with drugs doesn’t have to do with their pervasiveness, but why we choose to take them. This book isn’t so much about Hal Incandenza or a videotape. It’s not about media and trash and corporations. The book is, in fact, about Don G. Don G is unfettered by the rush of media and superfluous product--he’s just a fucked up dude from a fucked up family. There’s no scene more touching or disturbing than him and Fackelmann, sitting in the apartment, sun streaming through, plowing through a mountain of Demerol, plopped down in a stream of their own piss and feces. And it’s not for anything but inescapable emptiness. Nothing.

Now of course all these things feed into each other, but ultimately Don G is us at our most human. When the punks, juncos, jesters, and street urchins dance their wasteful bonfire at the end—in a carnival of torture and madness—it’s a bizarre, Fellini-esque death disco. The cinematic nature of the ending is just like James Incandenza’s films: The predilection towards melodrama, a flair for the oddball, the elemental depravity of human beings. My serendipitous relationship with IJ this past year has been about its ability to instill a vague sense of perspective: Film and literature have always been my true callings. I just haven’t been ready to pursue them.

But these tangents aside, I would recommend IJ to someone—despite the slog and wear and intense concentration and pretension and twitching—because ultimately it has a lot of foresight into what is very much the now. Obviously certain events are exaggerated, but the clinical distance that most of these characters maintain with each other—and alternately, how external forces that are societal and infrastructural affect that detachment—is pretty much spot on to how we experience the world around us. The added pleasure is that DFW accepts his own limitations (yes, he has them) and is able to find the humor in so much shallowness, smallness, pain, and inhumanity. Because those things, while stronger, will never replace the mushy sentiments that are essentially ineluctable: love, loss, joy, sorrow. And that’s what Hal vs. Don is about: Regret cannot triumph o’er them, no matter how much we search through our past through repetition.

Today a quarter century of my life is gone. Nothing seems to burn through but discrete strands and memories.

Yet here I stand with this knowledge and its yuks and tears stored deep within.

Time has been wasted, but I face forward against the vast vistas of waste!

I am here, thinking of being on the green grass looking out over the horizon, where the sky resembles grapefruit and ice.

And I smile.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Jared But did you really read it Tal?


message 2: by Tal (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tal Does reading in your dreams count?


Jared I absolutely did not post the above comment. Someone hacked into my profile. I'm not kidding.

Congratulations on finishing the book, Tal.


Greg Really sterling review, Tal!


message 5: by Christian (new)

Christian I usually hate reviews like this, where people try to show off. Honestly though, this is the best review I've seen on goodreads. Well done. Enjoyable to read in and of itself. More importantly, it got me anxious to take a shot at this book. Thanks.


Mitch Beautiful review. Oh my god.


John I really like your ideas about excess, and think your interpretation of the utter nothingness of the Gately-Facklemann scene is penetrating. You've given me new ways to think about a book that has already given so much, thank you.


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