Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace


It is difficult to start to write about a book that has consumed me for the past 2 months.

This 1079 page book (about 100 pages are footnotes) takes place in a futuristic country which is a conglomerate of the US, Canada and Mexico.  There has been a restructuring and a Canadian faction is secretly trying to win back independence.  We meet 2 spies, each for the “other side” during a conversation they are having about their philosophical and political views.  We meet Hal, a student at a private tennis academy which happens to be the one his recently deceased father established.  We meet Gately, a former drug addict who is a counselor at a residential drug rehab facility that happens to be near the tennis academy.  And so on.   Gradually, what starts as a series of random-seeming vignettes is verbally knit into a fabric of intense and dense story.

The writing in this book is both brilliant and poorly edited, in my opinion.  The author has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world and his vocabulary, both real and invented, is extraordinary.   Scenes that he creates with his words become so tangible you feel you can touch and even smell the characters in them.  At times he changes the writing style to fit a character so drastically you wonder if you’re reading the same book.   And each character, whether tangential or not, is given a full description and many have their own minor “word-binge” about an event that sort of defines them as a character.  What detracts from this, though, is that sometimes these word binges are too long, too dreary or just too repetitive.  There are many times I felt that details could have been edited out.  More might have been relegated to the footnotes, although those were complicated enough as it was (the footnotes have additional story lines – not just explanations of the terms and abbreviations use, although some did).

And while there are some very funny and clever scenes, the tone of the book is pretty sad.  Most of the characters are depicted as having come from families with bizarre or abusive issues, who are trying to live their lives but who end up spinning their wheels and never get where they want to go.  Almost no one is happy, almost no one is fulfilled.  Most are searching and working to move ahead and are thwarted in some way.  Drugs and sexual abuse are pervasive and there is a feeling of hopelessness underlying much of the action in the story.

The inspiration for my reading this book stemmed both from the movie, The End of the Tour, which depicted the true story of the author’s book tour to promote this book in the mid-1990’s.  A young writer for Rolling Stone Magazine decided to follow him and write an article about the experience and the movie is about the philosophical conversations the 2 writers have about everything and the relationship that develops between the 2 of them.  It is a very touching movie and extremely well-acted and aroused an interest in the book, which got enormous critical acclaim.  The other factor was that my son proposed that we read it together so that we could discuss it along the way.  It was really his persistence that kept me honest and reading it till the end.  (Thanks Michael!)

So while this is not a “fun” read or a “light” read, or even a short read, it is an intense, educational, and literarily broadening read for anyone with a lot of time!

I challenge you!



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