Matthew's Reviews > Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
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Dec 11, 08

Read in December, 2008

I started this book about a week after DFW died. I’d tried to read it about ten years ago, but I’d gotten frustrated with it, partly because I thought DFW was a showoff and possibly a douchebag, based solely (and stupidly) on the fact that he’d worn a bandana in his author photo in a bandana (I’d wondered WTF was he trying to prove—as if proving something was the only possible reason). This first attempt at IJ I’d only gotten about 300-some pages in and given up, thinking (because I really had no other reference-point) that he was trying to out-Pynchon Pynchon and doing a not-so-hot job of it (and also congratulating myself for having read most of Pynchon and being able to recognize an imposter). But then, ten years later, DFW died, and I ordered it on Amazon, feeling sort of sheepish and guilty about diving into the guy’s work so soon after he passed, wondering if and sort of at the same time acknowledging that there was something maudlin about that, me being, let’s face it, morbidly curious about a suddenly dead guy who I’d totally taken for granted would be around for four more decades at least, a guy whose essays and stories—especially “Girl with Curious Hair,” about a military guy who drops acid with some punk rockers and goes to see a Keith Jarrett concert—I really admired but who’d written this book that I had pretty much dismissed because of its discursiveness and heft. So I started the book in September and was immediately like, wow, this is good, realizing very quickly that DFW had committed himself to accomplishing a number of things in the writing of this tome, the most interesting and inspiring (to me) being his commitment to hunkering down—like unfathomably deep down—inside a(n often very) troubled character and giving us, in prose that is florid but totally (this time around anyway) non-show-offy, what it’s like for that character to experience his/her environments, whether it’s Hal getting high and then dipping Kodiak in the tunnels underneath the tennis academy or his brother Orin the NFL punter roaming the “scalp-crackling” heat of Arizona or Don Gately observing the nuances of old timers vs. newcomers of people in Boston AA or this guy named Lenz who’s in AA but also does toots of coke he’s hid in a carved out book and roams the streets looking for cats to strangle inside of Glad bags or Bruce Green whose mom died from a heart attack after opening a fake can of peanuts (from which a plastic snake exploded) on Christmas day or this woman named Joelle a former beauty disfigured in an accident who must now wear a veil so as not to horrify others with her revolting visage. So anyway, one of the reasons it took me so long to read this—other than the length and the fact that it is my job to read all day even without having to read pages upon pages of gargantuan paragraphs of 10 pt font—is because early on I did get a little frustrated by some of the digressions (of which there are many) and a lot frustrated by being urged so frequently to turn back to the end notes (of which there are 388, which translates into a hundred pages of even smaller font) and sometimes (especially at first) downright discouraged by the nearly-Sisyphusian task of moving forward through the book (on a good day, I’d get through 20 pages and think damn, this is pretty good but then be totally worn out). Then, around page 300, the thing started to really gain some momentum, and I was finding that I could get through 50 or 75 pages in a day, and then around page 620, I decided, okay, I’m gonna read the rest of this thing TONIGHT (last night) and announced to my wife and son that after I cleaned up the kitchen I would be hunkering down in my office to finish this book, which I was at this point very much enjoying but also tired of lugging around and even holding (you basically have to prop it against something because it’s so heavy), a book which at first felt simply like something to bludgeon someone with, and had for a while felt more like DFW’s tombstone—something you felt honored to be lugging around but also didn’t really want to keep doing much longer, feeling sort of like even he wouldn’t exactly want you to keep lugging it around (it’d been several months, after all). I felt skeptical, remembering how difficult the first 300 pages had been, but told myself I was going to blaze through it, drank a coffee at 6 pm (which I never do normally, being somewhat of an insomniac) and resumed reading. And what I discovered was that the book actually kept getting better, and funnier, and darker, and that I never had to tell myself to “stay awake” or force myself to read anything but more like I had dropped down into a universe of terror and beauty, a truly uninterrupted dream, and that I as I was reading I was actually feeling something as I read, not like “oh I can really sympathize with this character” but actually physically feeling a weird pressure inside my chest, not only in response to the intricacies of description of these various troubled souls’ lives, but because of the writing itself, and what it said about someone who was able to write so lucidly and clearly about depression and loneliness—that he knew what it was like, understood it in ways that, barring some unspeakable future events, I never will. So now, I’m glad and sad to be done and look forward to going back through it, reading old reviews, and copying stuff out of it to show my future classes, and in general spreading, however insufficiently, its gospel.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Edan (new)

Edan Wow, terrific review, Matthew. I actually refused to read this book for a long time because of DFW's unfortunate bandanna--and well, because the book is so damn long. Patrick and I had planned to read the book this fall, but then DFW took his life and we decided to wait a while. We're planning to read it together in 2009; your review makes me very excited to do so.

Jesse Glad you saw the light!!!!

Schuyler I'm leaving a comment because there isn't an option to say that I didn't like your review. Let me get this right: Before he died, you read a considerable chunk of Infinite Jest, but didn't like it, partially due to the fact that he wore a bandana in his author photograph. Then he took his own life, sparked your interest again, and you wrote a DFW-styled review, and now Infinite Jest is 'Amazing', five stars. Hmmm.

Matthew Wow. Thanks for commenting. You didn't like the review. Okay. But the evidence you supply seems pretty slight, especially since the things you identify as suspect are things that I already identified in the review as being suspect, then conclude with a suggestive "hmmm," as if you've outed me as some sort of bandwagon-jumping fraud? Another strange thing: you're not even specifically dissing the review itself, which heaps praise on a writer you are a fan of. Basically, you seem more interested in dissing the circumstances that lead me to initially read (and not read) IJ, which I already dissed myself. I guess I'm just confused. What's the purpose of your comment? To render my praise inauthentic? That strikes me as mean-spirited.

message 5: by Ryan (last edited Sep 23, 2009 02:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ryan V I just want to inform anyone who read the review but hasn't yet read the book, due to whatever sad circumstances may have colored their lives, that if they can successfully follow the narrative of said review without getting offtrack or confused and if they also managed to grasp the parenthetical statements without getting too lost, well, then, Infinite Jest awaits!

message 6: by Brian (last edited Mar 20, 2010 06:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brian Great review. I had a similar experience, not deciding to read and deciding to read the book. In the end, I enjoyed it so much that the when and why didn't matter much.

You're dead right about the shift in momentum halfway through. It's like that guy pushing the boulder up the hill, but one day you're not starting at the bottom, you're at the top and the boulder is pulling you down and into the book. I was trying to slow down as I reached the end, but the words just kept flowing off the page.

Now I just have to decide whether to read his other books before reading this one again. Any recommendations?

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