413 of 437 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Infinite Jest: A Novel (Paperback)
Say farewell, at least for a month or so, to your family, friends, and other hobbies. Figure out a way to fortify your fingers, wrists, and arms so you can hold this book up for hours at a time over a period of weeks. Reconfigure the lighting arrangement in your reading area for maximum glow. Find two sturdy bookmarks. Take a deep breath, let it out real slow, and you are ready to begin the monumental task of reading David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest." It took me three solid weeks to navigate a path through the byzantine structures of Wallace's magnum opus, three weeks of reading at least twenty pages a day (often more than that, of course) to get through the nearly 1,000 pages of text and the ninety plus pages of endnotes that make up this novel. If you have heard of Wallace before, and you probably have if you are checking out reviews for the book, you know "Infinite Jest" has quite a reputation in the literary world. You will see stuffed shirts tossing around words like "post post-modernism" and other academic jargon while referring to Wallace's oeuvre. Don't let these old fogies get you down; "Infinite Jest" is an immensely readable, hypnotically fascinating novel chock full of great humor, great sadness, and thought provoking themes.
The novel takes place in Enfield, Massachusetts in the near future. In the story, Canada, the United States, and Mexico formed a federation called the Organization of North American Nations (known as O.N.A.N.). The citizens of this confederation spend their time watching entertainment cartridges playable on their "teleputers," devices that came about when broadcast television went bankrupt. Advertisers predictably had a cow over the loss of television, so the government allowed companies to purchase calendar years and rename them. Hence, we have years called "The Year of Glad," and "The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment." Not everyone is happy with the O.N.A.N. arrangement; Quebecois revolutionaries continue to seek an independent homeland from their Canadian masters, only now they have to deal with the United States as well. In a devious bid for independence, a group of terrorists known as "The Wheelchair Assassins" (!) are seeking a film cartridge that supposedly kills anyone who watches it by turning them into pleasure seeking zombies. Moreover, a new energy system called annular fusion requires the confederation to dump its toxic waste into a place called "The Great Concavity," an abandoned area encompassing most of Maine and other northeastern regions. The concavity borders Quebec, and the toxins flung there with giant catapults (!!) have leeched into surrounding areas, thus causing thousands of people to develop life-threatening deformities.
Wallace introduces dozens of oddball characters in the course of his narrative, with special emphasis placed on the students at the Enfield Tennis Academy and the addicts populating a drug rehab right down the hill called Ennet House. The primary character at Enfield is one Hal Incandenza, a genius and a tennis star with a growing addiction to marijuana. Living with Hal are his horribly disfigured brother Mario, his promiscuous but hyper intelligent mother Avril, and several fellow students who redefine our conceptions of the bizarre. Hal has difficulties dealing with his family due to, among other issues, the horrific suicide via microwave oven of his father James. Dad was a scientist who helped develop annular fusion before going into experimental filmmaking. It was, in fact, James Incandenza who made the fatal entertainment cartridge that is causing so many headaches. In opposition to the madhouse that is Enfield is the madhouse that is Ennet House, where drug addict Don Gately attempts to take things one day at a time. Gately lived a life of desperate abandon, burglarizing homes in order to pay for his addictions. The only thing harder than living on drugs is kicking the habit, and Wallace describes in minute detail the hard sought sobriety of Don Gately and his fellow addicts. I know this summary stinks, I know I'm leaving tons of stuff out, but place the blame on Wallace for constructing such a complex novel.
Several themes thread their way through the novel. The most notable is the theme of addiction and recovery represented by Hal Incandenza and Don Gately. Another theme is the role of entertainment in American society, something Wallace sees as a calamity of epic proportions that will only end in death. If you tire of looking for deeper meaning in "Infinite Jest," don't worry. You can laugh yourself sick over the humorous aspects of the book or stare in open-mouthed awe at the numerous digressions from the main story. Wallace is a powerful writer, capable of infusing seemingly banal situations like filmmaking and sports with amazing energy. Check out the story about Hal's brother Orin punting in his first football game, or the Eschaton disaster at the academy, or James Incandenza's filmography in one of the endnotes for proof of this assertion. I especially loved the filmography and the endnote explaining the origins of the Wheelchair Assassins, two of the funniest, most wildly inventive things I have ever read. Most of the book is as equally brilliant even as it veers off in a dozen different directions.
"Infinite Jest" is intricate, with its multitude of subplots, OED inspired vocabulary, and tragic characters, yet the book still entertains because Wallace knows how to drape a compelling, easily understood story over all of the complexities. I'm under no illusions that I picked up on more than a fraction of the many things Wallace was attempting to say, but who cares? I had a heckuva a ride through this book, and hopefully you will too. Remember, take your time, breathe easy, and don't worry too much about carpal tunnel syndrome.
P.S. Allston Rules.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 15, 2007 7:42:59 PM PDT
R.S. Encaustic says:
Laid up in bed with a bad back. Somehow ended up reading Amazon reviews all day. Had fun ripping people who wrote crappy reviews or used poor sentence constuction. Yours was the best review I've read. Congatulations.
In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2008 10:41:22 AM PST
Dennis E. Henley says:
Obviously you are being ironic, right?
Posted on Jun 4, 2008 2:06:14 PM PDT
Thank you for this great review!! Looking forward to starting the book.
Posted on Mar 18, 2012 1:14:02 PM PDT
Thank you for the great review! Now I don't have to read the book!! And I mean this sincerely!!!
Posted on Mar 31, 2012 11:00:01 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 31, 2012 11:02:49 AM PDT
Nancy Leverett says:
I was on the fence about buying this book. I'm embarrassed to tell you how I happened to be here, reading reviews for DFW's book. I'm a blogger, and someone pointed me to a widget that allows you to copy and paste some of your text into a box, and push a button, and it then spits out a message saying that "you write like so-and-so" and wouldn't you know that when I copy and pasted and pushed the button, this little widget told me that I write like David Foster Wallace. I'm sorry to say I had never heard of him, (try not to gasp out loud), but now, after reading some of these reviews, I'm intensely curious, and have ordered the book. I simply couldn't resist finding out more about him.
I'm sure I won't understand even a microscopic portion of what he has written, but I'm still curious enough to take the bait. I absolutely adore being challenged, and can't wait to take it one page at a time. Your review is the one that put me over the top, so thank you for that. Your assurance that "Wallace knows how to drape a compelling, easily understood story over all of the complexities" was the nail that drove it home for me. Well, that, and your obvious admiration and appreciation.
Thank you for taking the time to warn us in advance that it's gonna be a bumpy ride, but then also being generous enough to assure us that even the idiots among us will get rewarded, if only we are brave enough to risk taking the journey. Excellent review. Very well done.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 18, 2012 9:42:50 AM PDT
Laurence Schiffman says:
So, did you ever read the Novel? Considering the length and complexity, you might still be at it. I savored every word, every character, and intentionally read it v-e-r-y slowly. Infinite Jest is worth the commitment.
Posted on Jan 9, 2016 6:34:36 AM PST
B. Han says:
Wow there are a few spoilers in this review. I'd much rather have not read this.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 2, 2016 5:47:01 AM PST
Michelle Zwick says:
And yet you misspelled two words.
Posted on Jul 14, 2016 10:53:27 PM PDT
Night Owl says:
What do you mean by "Allston Rules"? Is Allston a character in the book?
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