515 of 544 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius rewards the patient
David Foster Wallace is a genius, and he knows it. But unlike other geniuses that you might know, he never tries to make you feel dumb. He just wants you to understand the same things that he does, so occasionally you'll feel out of your depth. But he's also a gifted writer, so odds are that you *will* come out understanding him. And what he's saying is brilliant, so...
Published on December 12, 2001 by Stephen R. Laniel
64 of 75 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor Yorick
Nearly a decade after its first publication, David Foster Wallace's novel "Infinite Jest" remains a literary ink-blot test. With its 1,079 pages (including nearly 400 footnotes), and its fondness for gags, drugs, cultural theory, recent US popular culture, scientific minutae, and latinate vocabulary, the novel invariably divides readers on matters of literary technique...
Published on March 21, 2005 by Mr. X.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thinking about Infinity,
By A Customer
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, is, without question, the best book I've ever read. As a college English major, I've read my fair share of great literature, and very few authors even approach Wallace's ability to entertain, enlighten, mystify or infuriate. The length of Infinite Jest should not be an obstacle to finding pleasure in it. In fact, having to take such a long time reading the book makes it even more satisfying when you finish it. When I hear things like, "only for the most patient" or "be prepared to spend a lot of time," I wonder what sort of readers these people are. In a book as entertaining as this one, and it is monumentally pleasurable throughout the 1000+ pages, I would think people would want it to last as long as possible. I know I tried to read more slowly than usual toward the end because I didn't want to finish it. And it was when I finally did reach the last page, and what
many have called an extremely weak conclusion to such a brilliant novel, that I fully realized the genius that went into this book. I had previously been simply marveling at Wallace's incredible flair for both comedy and drama, simplicity and complexity and the phenomenal layering and cross-referencing within the story. Then, as I sat looking dully at the last page of the book, it ocurred to me. This is the last page, but not the end of the story. I had read the story's conclusion a month before, when I first began reading the book. So I went back and started reading again, and my jaw dropped open in awe of the true genius of this book. Sentences that had seemed insignificant or inconsequential when I first began reading were infused with new meaning, providing me with the conclusion to the story, cleverly hinted at by the books title, which refers to the graveyard scene in Hamlet. I kept reading for maybe fifty or a hundred more pages and continued to find these "buried treasures" that made so much
more sense, and were so much more entertaining now, and I knew then that if I didn't just put the book down and stop right then, that I never would. I would succumb to a fate similar to the viewers of the lethal entertainment in the story that the book shares its title with. The length of Infinite Jest is actually a necessity in making the book the work of genius that it is. It is because it takes so long to get to that final page that the reader forgets many of the seemingly superfluous sentences and sections from the beginning of the novel, which makes rereading them later, continuing in the book's infinite loop, after you've spent so much time with these character and you know them better than some members of your own family, so wildly, mind-bogglingly, possible even addictively entertaining.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Missed the hype, loved the book,
By A Customer
American readers may be interested to learn that the hype about Infinite Jest was entirely confined to America. In Dublin, Ireland it seems to have sold approximately six copies. However, one of them was bought by me. I didn't know I'd ever say of a 1000 page book that I couldn't put it down, but I couldn't. I don't take Wallace especially seriously as a constructor of fictions (I was particularly disappointed by the way the narrative appeared to just stop, as if the author's desktop printer had finally given up the ghost), but his humour and his capacity for inhabiting a vast range of different characters are amazing. I kept reading bits out to people - however, when they saw the size of the doorstop from which I was reading, none of them ventured to borrow it. In a way, I hope Infinite Jest isn't the coming thing in modern letters - books so vast that their shapes (if they have any) are indeterminable - but it's a pretty stunning achievement, and it's got enough ideas to keep most novelists occupied for half a career.
49 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars great themes & ideas but lacking in great writing style,
By A Customer
I read "A Supposedly Fun Thing...," Wallace's collection of essays and loved it. He is a very bright man who wrote with great wit, humor, and introspection. So I decided to tackle his 1000+ page novel. Once again, I found myself deeply in-touch with Wallace's themes, ideas, and fears about life; unfortunately, I am not in-synch with the style he uses to express them. His writing is inconsistant. He'll write a very emotional and passionate section and then the very next paragraph he'll launch into an incredibly (and tediously) detailed section on something else, devoid of emotion and heart. (To me at least), the book is filled with dorky tangents such as 30+ page explanations of ficticious games and needless technical data, and has endless footnotes that were an interesting novelty for the first 50 or so, then just became annoying to have to keep flipping back. I wanted so badly to love this book, because I feel a kinship with Wallace and his ideas but I finally gave up at page 350 when I realized I didn't care what was going to happen to anyone in the book. When you can read 350 pages and not give a sh*t about what happens, there is a problem. Ultimately, your themes become irrelevant if you can't draw the reader into your story. Great writing is the combination of substance and style. Unfortunately, Wallace has full command of the former but not the latter.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,
Yes, that is the title of Dave Eggers' new novel...but it so accurately describes this opus by David Foster Wallace. This is the sort of novel authors build a career on...and this is destined to be a classic of modern (or hyper-modern) fiction.
Make of that hyperbole what you will.
But Wallace has taken a series of intricately detailed plots (and there are several plots going here)and sub-plots and situated them in an often surreal, not-too-distant American future...aliented and bored; an America that takes itself way too seriously. Out of these, Wallace conjures up a series of themes touching on media, entertainment, terrorism, disfunctionality, and addiction.
While this makes for some difficult reading at times, what with flipping for footnotes, trying to figure out dates (the naming rights for years have been marketed to corporations), and keeping track of characters and clues...it's nonetheless masterful that Wallace still tells a number of compelling stories.
The major plot lines revolve around a tennis academy, an adjoining half way house for the addicted, and the use by a Quebec nationalist group of a terrorist weapon, a video cassette known as the Entertainment: a mysterious film that acts as a narcotic on those who watch it...in effect, leaving its victims in a catatonic state. The Entertainment is an obvious metaphor of the narcotizing effect of modern media.
Wallace could have easily left Infinite Jest as a mere science fiction parable on modern media. Fortunately, he didn't.
Sometimes the lines created by the many sub-plots and themes in Infinite Jest cross. Often they don't. In either event, these threads more often than not leave behind a series of questions that Wallace often leaves dangling (or does he? Perhaps the answers are in the footnotes!). But the unanswered questions and unresolved issues are often as telling about Wallace's intentions than those few instances where the reader is spoon fed the answer.
It's a lot of work to go into a lot of detail about a novel this big and complicated. If you didn't like "Gravity's Rainbow" or "Women and Men" or "The Recognitions"....you probably won't like this anyway. But if you have a soft spot for big, crooked novels like this....it will drag you in.
And ultimately, what drags you into "Infinite Jest" is the author's empathy for some of his characters. It's expressed throughout this novel as sadness....this novel is indeed heartbreaking in it's description of those desperates in 12-step programs, the degradation caused by addiction, the sick disfunctionality of modern family life.
Perhaps what's saddest is Wallace's dark view on where we're headed.
Even those moments of hilarity in this book, and there are many, are tinged with a sadness that makes any humor that much more bittersweet,even though the reader is laughing out loud...maybe what makes these particularly poignant, is that perhaps we're laughing at the hopelessness of the all-encompassing blues that has pervaded Wallace's fictional society. In Wallace's world, sometimes that's the only possible response.
If not the only one.
234 of 293 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The other dimension of my life.,
How is it that one novel can cause half its readers to put ZERO STARS - I HATE THIS BOOK and the other half to write I WISH I HAD 100 STARS TO GIVE? I am, obviously, in the second category. I found a copy in an outlet bookstore for 6 bucks and thought, "What the hell?" Since I am a literature student and already have to read 3-4 novels a week, it took me months to finish, but now that it's over, I am genuinely sad. The entire time I was reading it, I felt like my life had another dimension that was going on while I attended my university classes, saw friends, etc. Everyone I spoke to knows a couple of the plotlines of Infinite Jest because that's all I could talk about.
So many of the readers who did not love this book from deep in their hearts (as I do) want to compare and categorize and throw off Wallace as being pretentious. How sad! Unlike pretentious referential authors like Joyce, everything you need to understand Infinite Jest is there on the page. Sure, maybe it helps if you have some basic knowledge of theoretical physics and mathematics, but any reading on any topic requires a different level of previous experience, and that experience is not even necessary to enjoy the beautiful, sensitive, funny, HUMAN stories in IJ. This is not a cold scientific something -- this is pure human compassion and frustration and reminds me of what it means to be an American at the turn of the new century. (This is, of course, to say nothing of Wallace's prose, which sends me, as a writer, into alternating fits of jealousy and lust.)
I'm not trying to sell this book to all people everywhere -- it is a fact that most people over a certain age will find this book philosophically and structurally incomprehensible. I am 20 years old, and this kind of writing and the themes it deals with are closer and more real to me than hundreds of years of historical fiction. Having grown up in an age when entertainment is fast and hard and omnipresent (a fact which, like Wallace, I am slow to comdemn harshly), a novel like this reaffirms my belief in the medium. We haven't outgrown our literary past, and, much as films are becoming less linear (making less sense to the old and so much more to the young -- see "Magnolia"), the novel itself is learning, through authors like Wallace, to become the new animal that the upcoming generation needs to allow the medium to survive. The old avant-garde is tired now and needs to be put to bed.
Thank God for David Foster Wallace. Its because of him that I haven't quit writing yet.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Novel, But Maybe Not for Everybody,
This review is from: Infinite Jest (Paperback)
I don't want to try to summarize what I love about this novel. This is my favorite novel and so that would take a while and probably waste your time rehashing what other people have said better. Instead I'll try to address a few of the more common complaints I see here:
The first is that there is no closure. This is correct to some degree, since many of the storylines in the novel - Hal's addiction, Gately's and Pemulis' fates, the Quebecois insurgency, etc. - aren't explicitly resolved. There are hints of what happens if you'd like to sleuth these out (I was lucky enough to read it shortly before Infinite Summer, a sort of online book club for this, started, and luckily got to see the theories of cleverer people), but I'd argue that even those are unnecessary. The way I like to describe it is that Infinite Jest is too good to be constrained by a plot. Instead, these storylines are really just avenues for exploring some very interesting concepts: addiction, achievement, depression, loneliness. Moreover, these avenues are populated by some very well-drawn characters, some of whom are pretty repulsive but most of whom are so deftly fleshed-out that you can somehow empathize with them anyway. And momentarily inhabiting such realistic characters (narration is often limited-omniscient, albeit confined to a variety of different characters at different times) is such a rich experience that, to me at least, it more than makes up for a scant plot.
The second is that the book is hard to read. This is true in parts, and there are more than a few words in here whose meanings I still don't know. There are a lot of footnotes, a common theme in DFW's work, which can be bothersome but not horribly so. The beginning is especially slow going because the characters are unfamiliar and confusing and, especially if you haven't read any of DFW's work (I strongly suggest reading some of his essays before this), you may not have the reservoir of goodwill to get you through. But once you find your footing about a hundred pages almost all of the remainder is very readable. Sure, there are portions that can be pretty technical. There's an exposition of a Risk-like children's game that involves a jargon-packed discussion of nuclear warfare, for one, but I enjoy taking these digressions to learn a bit about the subject, and at any rate they're often skimmable if you so choose. More prevalent, to me, were sections of wicked humor. Infinite Jest has a lot of hilarious exchanges, events and descriptions. As an experiment, I looked for the funniest thing I could find in 10 seconds, and here that is: someone is selling sterile urine to beat a drug test, urine that's described as "warm pale innocent childish urine that's produced in needly little streams and the only G/M scan that it couldn't pass would be like an Ovaltine scan or something", and this sort of thing is all over the book (though it's a little more scarce toward the end). Real, laugh-out-loud humor. Sometimes broad, sometimes subtle. There's also a lot of exploration of how people think and behave, which is much more realistically felt and appreciated than I can describe, and which draws more empathy from me than any other novel I've read. At any rate, I think the best thing I can say about this book's readability is that I still pull it off the shelf occasionally, just to read a random section and either laugh or savor its ideas and prose, or all of those things. Not because I want to impress anyone; not because it's some book-medicine, required but unpleasant; but because it's really pleasurable to read.
So to summarize, if you want a novel that will introduce a problem, detail its solution, and tie up any loose ends (in other words, a conventional story), you may want to look elsewhere. But if you want descriptive prose, sharp humor and emotion, and a thoughtful exploration of a very wide variety of subjects and experiences and characters, give this a try.
437 of 552 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Alas, Poor Reader,
Look, I enjoy experimental fiction. When authors trust their readers enough to challenge them, I cheer. I do not, however, enjoy books that break promises, and like it or not that's exactly what Infinite Jest does.
Unlike other unconventional novels, such as the works of the oft-mentioned Thomas Pynchon, this one seems to prefer nasty tricks to genuine communication - it implies it's going to tell a complete if complicated story and doesn't deliver. That's the sort of thing well-educated showoffs do. It's one thing to subvert expectations, quite another to waste someone's time. Infinite Jest is nothing more than a shaggy-dog story.
Consider this: At the beginning of this book we meet a gifted young tennis player at an admissions interview for a prestigious college. Something is seriously wrong with him - his handlers desperately try to keep him quiet, but it's no use, he tries to speak for himself and babbles insanely. Cut to Chapter 2, one year earlier, and this same young man functions beautifully, quite in his right mind. Clearly, the novel intends to explain what happened to him, right? Well, close to a thousand pages later we not only don't know what happened to him, we don't even have him in the narrative anymore. That's worse than a mistake, it's a cheat.
Don't get me wrong, David Foster Wallace has plenty of great ideas and a skillful way with the language, but it doesn't add up to anything - that's the frustration. For instance, in addition to the young tennis star, we meet dozens of other brilliantly-conceived characters and learn the fates of exactly none of them. The settings are elegantly detailed, from a tennis high school full of secret passages to the train-station restroom home of a dying junkie, and none of them have any impact on any character from the first page to the last. The time period described, a few years into the world's future, includes several intriguing postulations from our current society, all of them dead ends. There's a cult for ugly people, a cross-dressing federal agent, a group of terrorists in wheelchairs, a lost movie that captures the minds of all who view it, and couple hundred more ingenious devices, not one of which changes a damn thing. Wallace's famous footnotes are more engaging than his story.
In all fairness, this author probably set himself an impossible task; he has tried, like many another writer, to encompass an entire world in his pages. Unlike others, he doesn't know when to shut up. Infinite Jest reads as though he wrote until he got bored, then stopped and foisted the results off on the world. If he couldn't finish what he started, the least he could do is keep it to himself.
Some have said that those who don't like Infinite Jest should stick to pulp romances, but the issue is not comprehensibility; it's the covenant with the reader, which says that a book should deliver what it promises. Infinite Jest, I repeat, doesn't do that. I'm delighted that so many have gotten so much pleasure out of this doorstop of a book - at least all those trees died for some useful purpose - but that doesn't excuse David Foster Wallace, who by the evidence of this work seems to believe that mere cleverness is enough to produce good writing. He's wrong.
Benshlomo says, Don't make promises you can't keep.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You're in bizarro world now...,
This review is from: Infinite Jest: A Novel (Paperback)
With "Infinite Jest," David Foster Wallace has created an exhaustive, and exhausting, look at modern life. Set in a twisted but strangely recognizable near-future North American semi-dystopia, the book sets forth Wallace's own post-apocalyptic vision. Wallace's future hasn't been ravaged by nuclear war, but rather by Americans' increasing dependence on material possessions, controlled substances, and above all, entertainment. Although you have to navigate through Wallace's myriad (and often entertaining) rhetorical excesses to find them, this book is filled with profound statements on the nature of choice and the pull of addiction.
The radically non-linear plot is centered on a likably dysfunctional family named the Incandenzas. James Incandenza (aka Himself), a tennis-academy founder and wannabe film artiste, has killed himself by sticking his head in a microwave before the book's action, leaving his promiscuous wife and three sons: the emotionless tennis/lexicographal prodigy Hal, professional football punter Orin, and the deformed but endearing Mario. Their everyday problems may be removed from what most readers experience, but Wallace still manages to make the Incandenzas, including the late and eccentric Himself, into relatable characters in one way or another.
Himself has also left another legacy in the form of "Infinite Jest," an entertainment cartridge (the book takes place after conventional TV has given way to all-cartridge viewing) so addictive that it turns the viewer into a mindless zombie with no desire whatsoever to do anything but watch the film again. A group of murderous and legless Quebecois separists (the Wheelchair Assassins, who provided the inspiration for my reviewer name) are trying to get a hold of a master copy of this tape to distribute throughout the newly created Organization Of North American Nations. If this cartridge sounds like a metaphor, it's because it is. It isn't hard to guess that Wallace probably feels modern-day notions of entertainment are rotting our brains and free will even as we speak, albeit a lot more slowly and insidiously.
The plot isn't the main attraction here, though. It merely serves a springboard for some inspired weirdness. Not even Chuck Palahniuk displays such a gift for alternating between the profound and oddball as Wallace. In one scene, two characters are having a philosophical debate about the nature of choice in modern-day society. In another, Wallace is expounding on Orin Incandenza's gift for punting a football (as a raging football fan, I found this passage especially enthralling). In another, we get to see how the United States ceded its toxic waste-infested Northeast corner to Canada to form O.N.A.N. What do these three passages have to do with each other? Little to nothing, but they're all gripping just the same.
Wallace devotes long passages to the state of America life in his near future and how it got that way. His descriptions of the evolution of entertainment from TV to viewing cartridges displays a remarkable perception of how entertainment works and what people want from it. Wallace occasionally delves into winding, wordy descriptions of Himself's film work, which apparently straddled a fine line between profound and pretentious. Himself's films, with names like "Blood Sister: One Tough Nun," "Baby Pictures Of Famous Dictators" and "Good Looking Men In Small Clever Rooms That Utilize Every Centimeter Of Available Space With Mind-Boggling Efficiency," serve as catalysts for speculations on what people like Himself hope to achieve through film, how others view it, and what our views of entertainment say about us as individuals.
The book, as this site's editorial review mentions, contains an enormous cast befitting a work of such magnitude, and Wallace has a knack for creating flawed, but likeable, characters. Much of the action takes place at a tennis academy and drug addicts' halfway house in the fictional Massachusetts town of Enfield, and Wallace paints vivid portraits of the residents of both of these institutions. Everyone is this book seemingly has some sort of issue, whether in their past or present, and there are few if any characters here who could be described as completely "normal." But that's part of what makes reading this book fun.
Of course, the most attention-grabbing aspect of the book is Wallace's stunning verbal dexterity. This guy can seemingly make words do whatever he wants them to do, and I often found myself enthralled by passages that had little if anything to do with any conventional plot mechanism. Wallace's description of an amazingly abstract and complex tennis-academy game called Eschaton may not serve any real purpose in the narrative, but it had me glued to the pages just the same. He even manages to make tennis, a sport in which I have no interest whatsoever, seem fascinating because he writes with such a wide-ranging scope and grasp of detail.
Of course, with a book this long (about a thousand pages), what I've written is just an overview. Everyone can get something different out of this book, and if some of the less enthusiastic reviews on this site are any indication, some people will get nothing out of it. But you still owe it to yourself to read it and find out for yourself what it holds for you. So if you have an extra three months or so on your hands, "Infinite Jest" is definitely worth your time.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Was actually sorry to finish it,
By A Customer
I knew this was a great book when, with about three hundred pages left, I started to feel sad. Like when you're on vacation, and you realize that you only have a few days of R&R left.
This book truly becomes part of your life. The characters are so unforgettably human, with real faults and foibles that will endear them to you. I think that's what I liked best about the book - the sense of entering another world inhabited by wonderfully complex (and often hilariously entertaining) people.
Yes, this book is long and it's not for the faint of heart. But it's also not one of those dry, academic-type books that feels like an insufferable chore. IJ is lively and entertaining. You will literally laugh out loud, which, if you read this book in public, may cause others to get the "howling fantods". Ignore them, and all the naysayers. IJ rewards patient and careful readers with a dense, multi-layered plot (yes, there is a plot - it's just not linear!). It's sad, funny, sweet, horrifying, cruel, wickedly smart, and, very often, quite wonderful. I highly recommend it.
FYI, I gave a four (as opposed to five) star review simply because of what I felt were some major plot points and critical info buried deep within the footnotes. Get out your magnifying glass!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind bogglingly good,
This review is from: Infinite Jest (Paperback)
Let's get a few things out of the way about Infinite Jest. Is it an easy read? No, it's not, but it's far from impenetrable and once you get into it, I.J.'s a hard book to put down. Does the plot resolve itself in a satisfying narrative conclusion? No, it doesn't, but if you read books simply for plot don't even bother trying to read Infinite Jest. Is it bloated and pretentious? Perhaps (particularly the 100 pages of footnotes), but that's what makes it so fun. So what's so good about it? Let me put it to you this way - once I finished reading it two days ago, I honestly feel like I have just come off an intellectual acid trip that has made me look at the world, addiction, our collective need to find contentment, what a novel can do, and tennis in a whole new, enlightened way. As well, the novel's a roller coaster emotionally as it is alternately hilarious and harrowing, is astounding in it's endlessly creative narrative structure and multiple narrators, and to top it off D.F.W.'s prose and dialogue are a true pleasure to read, . Infinite Jest is a commitment for the four to six weeks required to read it, but for anyone who enjoys a serious literary marathon it's well worth the challenge.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (Paperback - November 13, 2006)
Usually ships in 1 to 3 weeks