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infinitejestLike many, I got interested in reading this mammoth of a book and the author David Foster Wallace in general by reading Kottke.org. The tipping point that got me into actually buying the thing was an article he republished about Infinite Jest being an influence on Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, which after finishing the novel I have to say that yes, there are many similarities, but Infinite Jest isn’t just about a weird and messed up family. Not that I found that disappointing in any way.

So What is Infinite Jest About?

It’s really hard for me to answer that easily because: 1) There’s no doubt I missed a lot of things and I’m sure it needs a second reading. 2) It’s more theme driven than plot driven. The closest thing to a plot synopsis you’ll find is that it’s set in the near future were the US ends up with a big waste and ecological problem. The government in this future is an Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N) and is blended with corporations that control media and for some reason renamed the calendar. It centers around a family called the Incandezas that lead a Tennis Academy and a staff manager of an AA rehab center called Don Gately. Their lives are intertwined because they live in the same area, Boston, but also because of a mysterious veiled woman called Madame Psychosis, which appeared in many of the films of the Incandeza patriarch. Like “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane, the gimmick in what you can call a plot, is the tracking of a supposed lethal film that James Incandeza made.

The Difficulty Thing

The book doesn’t get called gargantuan because people exaggerate. It’s 1088 pages, with almost 400 footnotes, some of those footnotes have footnotes, and some footnotes are paragraphs and pages long. But it only took me like 8 weeks or so to get through it and I’m not really that fast of a reader. (Logging my reading status on Goodreads helped a lot.) People that praise or dislike this book argue about its length as what makes it difficult or perceived as difficult. But it’s not the length that makes it daunting.

In Kottke’s forward for the InfiniteSummer.org book club, he states that you don’t have to be an english major to enjoy Infinite Jest and I agree with that to an extent. But this isn’t exactly a Harry Potter novel. There’s third person perspective, first person perspective, and sometimes the author-knows-it-all-perspective. Confusing back and forth in time. Extensive digressions. The fact that I had to take peeks at sites like InfiniteSummer to get some handle on it proves that you really can’t just sit down alone and have fun reading the adventures of Hal Incandenza.

So What Do I Think About It

*Some Spoilers

As I mentioned at the start, I have to read this a second time. I want to read it a second time. I need to read it a second time. It is intriguing, brutal, funny, disturbing. There are legless wheelchair assassins. There’s a film J.O. Incandenza made called Blood Sister: One Tough Nun that I hope Tarantino makes one day. A child eats fungus. A tennis player wins games while holding a gun to his head, threatening to kill himself it he doesn’t win, while playing tennis.

The only negative criticism I can give it is that you can’t really look at it as a work of fiction. Not in the traditional sense. While I found some of the characters interesting, it was really hard for me to really like a character. To root for them or hate them. They’re all neutral. But I guess that’s part of the point of this novel. Wallace’s inside joke and wink is that what’s entertaining about the story it’s is non-entertainment and unsatisfying story arc. It’s like a very long thesis about addiction and entertainment that uses plot and characters as props.

So I would definitely recommend it to people that enjoy reading, but not to anyone that’s looking for something to read.