here is a scene in this monster of a book, in tiny print in a footnote that spans pages. A character is trying to plagiarize a flowery-penned writer and is furious he can’t do it verbatim (since the voice is so radical and baroque). He visualizes slapping the author: left, right, left.
That’s kinda how I feel about this book.
Infinite Jest is, as I’ve said elsewhere, a monster of a book. The primary story is 981 pages long. The footnotes (some of them as long as a chapter on their own) adds another 96 pages (in tiny print). It is a story that goes off on wild tangents, explaining the backstories of everyone in the two major storylines (a young player in his mother’s prestigious tennis academy and events surrounding a recovery program). But don’t worry – there are also side stories for everyone in the family, crazy nuclear war tennis games, wheelchaired Canadian assassins, American overreach, spies sharing an entire evening talking, a lethal entertainment cartridge, a mysterious veiled woman, another mysterious woman DJ, a tramp that slowly dies in the isolation of a commode, a man groaning through a long hospital stay, their families, their backgrounds, their histories, everything.
David Foster Wallace writes in all of the above in a very strange tempo, a stream of consciousness technique that turns paragraphs into pages – I’ve actually found places spanning ten pages of run-on sentences without a single paragraph break. The upshot is that Jest is a very exhausting book to read – about a half hour of sitting over it and I’d be nodding. I hammered through the last 50 pages today and had to nap twice. A very arduous book, one of the most tiring I’ve read.
And, a warning, if you are expecting the reward of a clear-cut wrapped-with-a-bow end to this, you will be quite disappointed. The author only hints at disasters for all involved. I think I know what happened in the end – it’s grim – but it’s also unconfirmed.
So it was a long way across walls of texts and tiny playful footnotes for an inconclusive finale.
Still, I did like it (just like I liked our anniversary in Amsterdam, where my wife broke her arm – adventures are best looked back on). There were some very witty comments, asided through footnotes by the author. There were amusing bits about American culture, of M*A*S*H and Cheers and Linda McCartney, of old men in the back row of AA meetings, of that thermonuclear game the tennis stars play in their offdays, of Canadians jumping in front of trains, American spies in drag, all of it. Sure, these were tiny bits of meat in a giant bowl of word broth, but I did like them.
Would I recommend this book? Really? I’m in a unique position in that I’m retired – and I still asked myself at mid-book (with an inch wad of pages still in my right hand) why I was continuing. It felt pointless at times, but then again, the story would wrap around and suddenly catch you, if only you were paying attention. So I’d recommend it only to my most advanced reader friends. And then, to tell you the truth, I’d like to spend a day with you in a coffee shop, comparing notes.
I guess, in the end, I don’t know what to say. Just like Infinite Jest.