Richard Needham's Reviews > Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
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Mar 08, 10

Read from February 18 to March 08, 2010

I had put off reading this book because of its length (1000 pages + footnotes), but liked what I had read of his other work. There is mastery in Wallace’s writing that grabbed me quickly, and led me as through a brilliant and complex maze; at some points the analogy is more like a set of recursive subroutines that call upon themselves to an amazing depth before un-nesting back to the main program. The only thing I’ve read that compares is Gravity’s Rainbow. The story unfolds (probably not the best choice of words; it is much more complex than an unfolding) over about three weeks in the near future, with many flashbacks (we are in “subsidized time” after an ecological disaster, and the years are now sponsored by corporations: we are in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment). Threads of narrative that seem minor will disappear and then reappear many pages later. Whole pages go by with obsessively detailed text unrelieved by periods.

It is clear, even more in retrospect, that this book was written partly as an attempt by Wallace to exorcise the demons that tormented him. There are painful narratives of addiction and withdrawal (alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs of all classes). Along with this we encounter assorted dysfunctional families, 12 step meetings, insanity, depression, child molestation, and repeated slow methodical beatings of a woman by a deranged retired soldier (this last was almost impossible to read). Yet there is much laugh-out-loud humor as well (most memorable is a narrative of an obsessive father and his son attempting to wrestle a king-sized mattress, box-spring, and bedframe out of a small bedroom with a smaller door).

Some samplings of Wallace’s writing that give a hint of his talent: strung-out drag queen Tony Krause seen on the sidewalks of Cambridge, MA: “…never so much walking as making an infinite series of grand entrances into pocket after pocket of space…”; a recovery meeting of tubby middle-aged men in khakis and sweaters holding Teddy Bears helping Kevin to get in touch with his Inner Infant (… “ ‘go for it Kev’, somebody near the Bly poster calls out”), a late fall night scene in Natick, MA where: “…the piney air has the ethyl sting of winter”.

This man had an incredible gift for writing and it is sad that we will see no more of it.
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