Kiof's Reviews > Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
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Sep 10, 2012

really liked it

Books like this carry a reputation. When you meet somebody who has actually read them, it is like meeting a member of the Stone Cutters. The only person who I've ever talked to about the book was a proud philosophy major who said that he read the book only once, and he said he'd have to re read it, even though he really didn't want to, to actually understand all of its complexities, all the connections. Well, after having finished this interminable monster, I feel like I can safely say this book is really not that complicated, at least in plot; though it is probably re read-worthy. The plot, except for some random vignettes (some very good, some very bad; very good: the suicidal mental patient, the greatest part of the book for me, even though that description doesn't it make it sound very good. Very bad: the Ebonics experiment at the beginning, which I really disliked.), is 3 stories. One about secret agents, one about a tennis academy, one about a rehab house and the people in it. It's telling that the companion guide for Ij is only like 80 pages, unlike the sizable guides for the shorter books Gravity's Rainbow and Ulysses. IJ fits into anybody's description of a novel, way more than GR, it is just 3 different stories with cutaways.
The book, needless to say, is quite an accomplishment; among many other things, there are several dozen interesting stylistic innovations in the book. Wallace defines the feeling of the 90's (and even today) better than anyone else. Wallace's frequently-stunning intelligence shines throughout the novel. I have to make it clear that there's many problems with this book. Many problems which I feel are undeniable, and if you like the book enough, you just overlook them. First, the famous size. I think a good 400-500 pages should've been just fully cut (I know that might sound extreme to all those howling fan-tods, but I think there could be a lot of stuff cut out of here just to make it a more bearable and pleasant experience. Maybe just release Wallace's original 1200 page manuscript for the fans and give the rest of us one of the best novels ever, at a sleek 500 pages). Second of all, the footnotes. Again this will surely upset the fans, that's if even one of them reads this, but I found the footnotes largely useless, apart from a couple, like the filmography. A majority of the time they're just one-line jokes that could have easily been included in the main text, in some way. When reading the book, you have to go searching through many pages just to find one little gag. They should have just been cut.
My next complaints are more personal. Wallace makes a big deal about how he's a grammar genius, a subject, as you can see, I have at best a passing knowledge of. Though I'm sure Wallace's sentences conform to some form of experimental grammar, they are ungainly and, I feel, aesthetically unpleasant. Another thing I find aesthetically unpleasant are the gags. Wallace constantly jokes, he's as obsessed with joke count as Seth MacFarlene (who's as much as a postmodernist as Wallace). Problem is Wallace isn't funny. In fact, he's painfully unfunny. Maybe to some people he's a comedic genius as well, but his poop and fart and puke and whatever-else jokes are frankly idiotic and tasteless 1st-grade material. The constant attempts at gags just makes me feel like Wallace is distancing himself from the reader and his characters because he's afraid of showing more heart. There is some heart to this book, but is all self based. No doubt about it, Wallace is a narcissistic writer. Everything is about the self, the self folding into itself. Wallace's line of thinking gives all the time in the world for your own, probably invented, issues and little for anybody else's. But perhaps this extreme selfishness is why he writes so well about his generation, the generation breast-fed on TV and self-confidence training and indulgent psychology by their hippie parents. Wallace bought every myth of psychology and AA hook, line, and sinker, with little doubt about their efficacy. For a Pynchonite, a very un-Pynchon thing to do. Also, the book starts slowing down around pg 600-650 in my estimation, and is at a standstill by the last 200 pages. And there's basically no ending, which there is no philosophical or literary excuse for, after having to pleasantly slog through this forest of pages.
Anyways, quite the book. I hope you find peace in the next life or the next or wherever you happen to be right now, Wallace.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Satia (new) - added it

Satia I've never read anything by Wallace. I think I read something by Pynchon ages ago but I'd have to really think about it and I am sort of burnt out on thinking at the moment.

But I think I'm going to get Wallace in my queue sooner rather than later. I merely have to say one word to my mother, who adores him, and I'm sure she'll send me one or two of his books.


message 2: by Kiof (last edited Sep 12, 2012 01:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kiof Yeah, Pynchon is a head-scratcher, for sure. Extremely complicated, so much so it is hard for me to even rate him (my favorite of his I've read is actually the much-maligned Vineland; crazy I know.) I sort of believe most of his fans either have the same personality as him or are just lying. If you're gonna check out Wallace I might read the bio that just came out on him first, it's quite good, if you're a biography person (though I warn you, the ending of it is (predictably) incredibly bleak...I see btw that you've read Lit by Mary Karr, DFW is the abusive bf in that book). A lot of people might recommend his non-fiction to you, but I find it overrated (at least Lobster) and basically just an extension of his persona/personality. His short story stuff is often interesting, especially some of the stuff in Hideous Men. Though if you're gonna really read Wallace it is IJ. there's no substitute. A good chunk of it is magical. And don't feel guilty if you skim like half of it.


message 3: by Satia (new) - added it

Satia Kiof wrote: "Yeah, Pynchon is a head-scratcher, for sure. Extremely complicated, so much so it is hard for me to even rate him (my favorite of his I've read is actually the much-maligned Vineland; crazy I know...."

Yeah. I didn't like Lit that much and my mother adores DFW so you can imagine how she feels about Karr. Actually, you can't. She called me up after receiving a copy of Poetry magazine in which Karr has a poem that alludes to DFW and what my mother said she wanted to do to Karr is colorfully descriptive and violent. And I never ever skim. I may fall asleep while reading but skimming I save for reading things online. :)


Kiof Well, speed-reading and skimming can be pretty similar...Now I just feel guilty haha :D


message 5: by Satia (new) - added it

Satia Kiof wrote: "Well, speed-reading and skimming can be pretty similar...Now I just feel guilty haha :D"

At least you don't want to rip someone's heart out through her anus, which is what my mother wants to do to Karr.


Kiof :( That's a gross enough metaphor for DFW. Next time you talk to her mention that DFW hired a hitman to kill Mary Karr because she didn't go out with him, that backed out and didn't pay him at the last minute (on second thought, she probably already knows this and has forgiven him).....seriously that guy was at least sorta a prick.


message 7: by Satia (new) - added it

Satia Well, I'm beginning to realize that my mother, who is a very generous and loving person, adored by so many who know her, can be a hard-ass when it comes to anyone she doesn't know. I remember thinking that Nixon was going to be shot, as in a firing range execution, and I'm sure that I can think of others who have fired up her wrath.

Pretty sure she's read the bio but if she hasn't she may forgive him, contextualize it as his not being sober at that time in his life, or any number of other perfect rationalizations that will allow her to forgive him and continue loathing Karr.

She is a very sweet and loving person. I just don't think anyone should piss her off unless they are loaded for bear.


Kiof sounds like a complicated, cool, strong woman


message 9: by Satia (new) - added it

Satia Kiof wrote: "sounds like a complicated, cool, strong woman"

We adore her and even my daughter-in-law sings nothing but her praises. And my step-sister. You know, those women who don't need to love her but do anyway because she's just an all around good person.


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