Lee's Reviews > Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
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Aug 27, 12

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Read in October, 2009

Six stars minus one because I feel like DFW wanted it that way, that he (who can clearly do anything) consciously engineered its lackluster end -- "a failed entertainment" was the original subtitle.

Sometimes thought it was as good as it gets, sometimes better than the best it gets. Other times I was lost but cruising ahead to get to the good as it gets parts. Disappointed in the last 100 pages or so. Wasn't into the footnotes. I think it's intentionally constructed to "fail," to let the reader down as an "entertainment," to create in the reader the sort of sadness that comes with unfulfilled expectations, a sadness felt by all the characters, a fundamentally American sadness that's the jester's gist?

The book is structured (DFW says it's structured like a Sierpinski Gasket -- google it) like the Eschaton game played at the tennis academy, a game based on a NORAD nuclear wargame simulation. No winners, impossibly complicated, massive (fictional) destruction everywhere.

Loved the characters. Loved the more conventional scenes. Loved the discursive parts re: depression, suicide, marijuana addiction. Loved the endlessly creative digressions, even when endlessly horrific. Loved the play on the oft-parodied Bergman playing-chess-with-Death thing: here it's Hal playing chess on the run (ie, tennis) with Ortho "The Darkness" Stice in all-black Fila gear. Loved that "Madame Psychosis" suggests that significant word in Ulysses ("metempsychosis"). Loved, most of all, the simple writerly descriptions, the kick-ass similes, the good ol' artistic amplification of perception. Loved that Mario isn't fully described til about page 610. Could go on endlessly about awesome qualities, and could definitely go on for a bit about its drawbacks (beyond the ebonics section) . . .

In 1997, I almost bought a signed first edition hard cover in a Barnes and Noble in downtown Boston. Should've. Alas. Hmmm. Ultimately: lots and lots of love for this but also feel let down a little. And whether it's intentional or not, it's still left me saddened, the way the story sort of falls off toward the end, sort of like what's happened to everyone's expectations of a lifetime of reading new essays and novels and stories by the man, which I guess is also what happens to everyone's expectations for everything as they age and inevitably die?

Also, it needs to be said that while walking home from work reading IJ, while waiting for a light to change, some mid-20s nerd-chic bicyclist (surely a recent liberal arts school english major grad) passed me then doublebacked and accompanied me as I crossed the street, asking what section I was on, saying it was his favorite book, he'd read it a bunch of times -- it almost seemed like he wanted to hug me for reading it while walking across Washington Avenue (a very uncommon demonstration of bookish brotherly love in Philadelphia -- and a really good indication of this book's greatness).

It's definitely a book that fills the world, enhances perception, introduces into one's e-mails extraneous conversational mimetic tics like sort of and kind of and and so but then. Addictive prose styling. Funny that "funny" isn't really among the top 10 adjectives I'd use to describe this, though there are some serious LOLs.

Anyway, really excellently awesome and over- and underwhelming in a (I think intentionally) heartbreaking way: after 981 pages plus footnotes you're left on the beach with the tide way out (DFW apparently loved Larkin and Larkin's most famous lines are probably: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad . . . Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, And don't have any kids yourself": http://www.artofeurope.com/larkin/lar...)

Easily one of my favorite contemporary writers before I read this, which only advanced his standing in the LK canon.

Required listening: http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/bw/b...

Definitely must re-read one day . . .
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Jim (new)

Jim Great review!


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

Lee I don't think there's really any way to successfully dip into it -- my reading definitely benefitted from total immersion (30-50+ pages a day). Without a consistent daily IJ administration, it'd've been hard to keep all the balls he's juggling elevated in the air of my mind. (Did I just call myself an airhead? Did I just say something about DFW's balls?)




message 3: by Lee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lee Didn't know you'd read it -- I'd tried and failed to get beyond pg 10 a half-dozen times before, so really had to commit to it.


message 4: by Jim (new)

Jim I'm in that boat (many false starts) but its been this way with some of my favorite books (V, Ulysses) just need to make the commitment.


message 5: by Drew (new)

Drew you do love to torture, i mean challange, youself.


Anittah (312 has a description of Mario, especially the younger years.)


Kiof I 2nd Jim, Great review!


Stephen M Wonderful review man. One day I'll probably go out with a sign that says: "free hugs for anyone with a copy of Infinite Jest".


Irina Kebreau Loved this review for sure - it expresses how I feel about the book. It is absolutely brilliant! I always loved Joyce and think Wallace comes close to Joyce's brilliance! I am on a fence at the moment whether IJ eclipses Ulysses, but I would most definitely put these 2 among my favorites together with Gravity's rainbow!


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