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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2008
Mr. Carlisle's Elegant Complexity is a helpful scaffolding system for an understanding of the late David Foster Wallace's Magnum opus. Elegant Complexity structures the chapters, sections, and subsections of Wallace's Infinite Jest into an organized whole. However, it is bland. But this is a good thing. It does not force an interpretation down your throat, it merely states what is what, and offers the minimalist of hints as to further exploration of meaning and interpretation. In this regard Elegant Complexity is a success.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2011
I ordered this book on the strength of the reviews and an overestimation of the complexity of Infinite Jest. The fact that Elegant Complexity is promoted as "spoiler free" indicates more of a companion piece than a study of the novel itself. I do not want to take anything away from the reviewers as I can see value in this type of book if, for example, Infinite Jest was required reading and not your cup of tea. This could make it easier to comprehend, but it would certainly appear to me to take the joy out of reading Infinite Jest (and it was a joy). I read the Introduction and first chapter review and realized that Elegant Complexity was not going to enhance my comprehension of the book, but would certainly take away my enjoyment of it. Needless to say, I put the book down and spent the next several weeks thoroughly enjoying Infinite Jest. After I finished the novel, I went back and looked over Elegant Complexity to see if perhaps it could be utilized as a review and I found that it did not include much of anything I missed and failed to discuss items I would have considered relevant in a companion work like this. I found myself referring to the novel to fill the gaps left in some of the summary information in an early chapter review in Elegant Complexity, which seemed odd to me and compelled me to share my thoughts. If you are dedicated to reading Infinite Jest for pleasure, I would suggest taking your time and reading the book and skipping the "spoiler-free" guide. Infinite Jest can be complex when compared to much of today's popular novels, but it is worth the effort. I applaud the effort to make David Foster Wallace more accessible to the average reader, but I just do not see this achieving that objective and I personally expected much more.
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40 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2007
The surest way to ruin a joke is to explain it. It seems that elegance functions similarly. This book - exhaustive on its chosen subject - lacks any praiseworthy style in writing.

To call it a study is misleading. It is only a guide, though it _is_ a commendable guide.

What it comes down to is a very explicit and formulaic cliffsnotes: summarize a passage, extract the themes, explain them ad. naus. While I don't think most of the people who read "Jest" in its entirety in the first place will need guidance with everything "complexity" offers, I think it does offer points "Jest" scholars will enjoy exploring further.

"Elegant Complexity" is neither, but this only serves to provide a little insight in less than a few thousand pages. It's good for what it is - an explicit guide. Make sure that it's what you want.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2012
Honestly, I feel like this book misses the point. It serves basically an extended summary that makes explicit the more implicit connections to be found in the story, not as any sort of "answer" to the questions of plot raised by Infinite Jest (like I had kinda foolishly expected it to be). Also, it tends to ignore the wonderfully human aspect of the novel, which is both absolutely horrible and entirely necessary for the study to work. It's cause of the lack of the human thing that I say this book misses the point, but it's also something required for this study to work. With that in mind, Elegant Complexity is almost perfect at what it does, making numerous implications stated. The only real issue I had with the book was that occasionally the author would make a connection between IJ and another work of art without describing the connection enough, leading to either a connection that seems thin or a bit of me wanting to delve deeper into the connection out of my own interest. So yeah, basically the study works well at both extending your understanding of the complex plot and as an argument that DFW knew damn well what he was doing with Infinite Jest, but it still just feels like an inessential extra to the novel and should only be seeked out if it's something you really want to read as opposed to something any bit necessary of excessively helpful.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2012
Infinite Jest is a difficult but rewarding novel. Elegant Complexity is merely a listing of various facts in the novel that may be relevant but the book lacks any analysis of what significance those facts may mean in the context of the novel. For example, the author will note every time the color blue is mentioned, or that two characters in different chapters and at different times, fart, but doesn't try ro address why any of this is relevant. He also notes that many events involving different characters and taking place at different times occur in Phoenix, Arizona, but never offers up a theory as to why Wallace chose Phoenix. In fact, Elegant Complexity offers almost no analysis, and only the most obvious explanation as to what Wallace is trying to do in Infinite Jest. Elegant Complexity is little more than a summary of the book.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2008
Elegant Complexity is a tremendous, tremendous help to this first-time Infinite Jest reader. Sure, the chapter summaries and commentaries are useful, but the strengths of the study really are that it helps orient readers in time, and that it constantly refers readers back to previous sections of the novel to help illustrate the interconnectedness of themes, characters and plot - which, in my mind, is the true genius of the novel. This was especially valuable in the later stages of the novel, as connections were made to an event or comment or dream from 700 pages ago. It was wonderful to be able to flip back to the exact page and re-read and get that "good reader" feeling of "I get it!"

Also, breaking the novel into its sections and chapters was helpful because it makes it easier to understand, as Carlisle points out frequently, what DFW is trying (and succeeding, in my opinion!) to accomplish structurally. Rising actions, missing "Gately-sized" pieces, completing cycles, etc...

The one weakness of the book in my view is that Carlisle often, and almost gleefully, points out inconsistencies or "errors" - almost like a Star Trek fan boy. There's no explanation given for these discrepancies, other than the basic misspellings that Carlisle explains are corrected in subsequent versions. Are these "errors" simply oversights? Or is there a method to DFW's madness? They're just pointed out and left alone.

Overall, though, I can't recommend this study more highly. It's helped me gain an understanding of and appreciation for Infinite Jest that would've been nearly impossible otherwise.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2012
This guide to Infinite Jest justified itself alone by being able to string together all the uses of the color blue. I had tacked Infinite Jest (IJ) this past summer and while I found it a wild ride, was left with several major questions. Elegant Complexity did not spell out the answers, but helped me see the guide wires enough to find my own way through. I was shocked at how large this guide was, it gave IJ a run for its money. I would suggest using Elegant Complexity the same way I did, as a reader for those who have already finished IJ. Elegant Complexity definitely improved and enhanced my enjoyment of IJ.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2009
I am sure this is a great guide, but do not buy it for Kindle. This is a reference, so you want to be able to page back and forth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2013
I just completed reading Infinite Jest for the second time (first time was about 12 years ago) and I was looking for a book to plainly and clearly explicate the intricate story line and relationship between all the characters. In my opinion, Elegant Complexity does an excellent job of this. This book has helped me to understand better what exactly is going on in Infinite Jest, even after the second read. The book essentially is a chapter by chapter analysis of Infinite Jest. It does a very good job of teasing out the different plot threads and relationships between the characters, while helpfully highlighting the interplay between Infinite Jest and other literary works, e.g., Hamlet and A Clockwork Orange. Some might find the book a bit tiresome, especially when compared to Infinite Jest itself. But if you are looking for a well organized reference guide to Infinite Jest then I recommend it highly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2015
Having made the commitment to tackle this opus, I found myself scouring the Internet after every chapter, hoping others had left a trail of breadcrumbs through the woods. At about pg. 200 (and completely hooked), I knew it was time for a serious road map. Carlisle's chapter summaries are wonderful; he doesn't tell you what to think but rather highlights intriguing lines and phrases that you might have missed the first or fifth time through. His chronology is indispensable. No spoilers, but he brings recurring motifs and themes to the forefront so you're more likely to remember when you see them again. And let's be honest: the greatest challenge (and fun) of reading IJ is remembering all the whats and whos. I had already assumed I'd have to read the book a second time to catch all the clues and references. Thanks to this guide, I know where to look.
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