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Infinite Jest Paperback – November 13, 2006
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In a sprawling, wild, super-hyped magnum opus, David Foster Wallace fulfills the promise of his precocious novel The Broom of the System. Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction, features a huge cast and multilevel narrative, and questions essential elements of American culture - our entertainments, our addictions, our relationships, our pleasures, our abilities to define ourselves. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
With its baroque subplots, zany political satire, morbid, cerebral humor and astonishing range of cultural references, Wallace's brilliant but somewhat bloated dirigible of a second novel (after The Broom in the System) will appeal to steadfast readers of Pynchon and Gaddis. But few others will have the stamina for it. Set in an absurd yet uncanny near-future, with a cast of hundreds and close to 400 footnotes, Wallace's story weaves between two surprisingly similar locales: Ennet House, a halfway-house in the Boston Suburbs, and the adjacent Enfield Tennis Academy. It is the "Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment" (each calendar year is now subsidized by retail advertising); the U.S. and Canada have been subsumed by the Organization of North American Nations, unleashing a torrent of anti-O.N.A.N.ist terrorism by Quebecois separatists; drug problems are widespread; the Northeastern continent is a giant toxic waste dump; and CD-like "entertainment cartridges" are the prevalent leisure activity. The novel hinges on the dysfunctional family of E.T.A.'s founder, optical-scientist-turned-cult-filmmaker Dr. James Incandenza (aka Himself), who took his life shortly after producing a mysterious film called Infinite Jest, which is supposedly so addictively entertaining as to bring about a total neural meltdown in its viewer. As Himself's estranged sons?professional football punter Orin, introverted tennis star Hal and deformed naif Mario?come to terms with his suicide and legacy, they and the residents of Ennet House become enmeshed in the machinations of the wheelchair-bound leader of a Quebecois separatist faction, who hopes to disseminate cartridges of Infinite Jest and thus shred the social fabric of O.N.A.N. With its hilarious riffs on themes like addiction, 12-step programs, technology and waste management (in all its scatological implications), this tome is highly engrossing?in small doses. Yet the nebulous, resolutionless ending serves to underscore Wallace's underlying failure to find a suitable novelistic shape for his ingenious and often outrageously funny material.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
###Here's What You Need to Know###
David Foster Wallace's INFINITE JEST is a postmodern novel with a premodern message. Wallace, who railed against irony, wanted to be sincere in his writing. So while this book does contain many postmodern conventions, its ideas about humanity aren't postmodern at all. I think many people were disappointed that the book is "about addiction, and that's all you need to know," but there is much more to this book, and there's much more that Wallace has to say. Some of these messages are delivered with a heavy hand, and that's fine: Wallace wanted to be sincere, and he wouldn't want to dull his insights by distancing himself from them via irony or whatever else.
This book is indeed incredibly long. INFINITE JEST is notoriously known for being a long book - it's just shy of 1100 pages. Stephen King's THE STAND (uncut edition) and George R.R. Martin's STORM OF SWORDS are longer this, but I was able to clear those books much quicker than David Foster Wallace's second novel. I'm a very slow reader, and I was able to read INFINITE JEST in about two months, without taking into account the time I spent reading two shorter novels by different authors.
This book is indeed incredibly verbose. As a way to rage against the rising popularity of minimalist writing in the 1980's, Wallace found himself moving towards a brand of writing that captured everything: every thought, every action, every detail. His maximalist writing can be hard to get through at time: there's an extended passage detailing a tennis academy's design that seems to go on forever. The discussion of an invented game that involves intermediate calculus to keep score reaches across dozens of pages. Wallace sought to capture everything.
Everything you heard about the endnotes is true. The narration of the book is frequented interrupted with endnotes (different from footnotes), some of which span a dozen pages and contain their own endnotes. These asides are not optional: plot details are frequently hinted at or exposed in these interludes.
READ THIS ON KINDLE IF YOU CAN. I want to stress this point: reading INFINITE JEST is much easier on an eReader for a few reasons. With Kindle, the hassle of flipping back to the endnotes is a burden made much lighter. Each note is hyperlinked to its corresponding section to the back. It's also really easy to highlight, bookmark, make notes of certain areas to revisit if you need. Some important plot elements are given only once in passing, so marking these areas is helpful, and Kindle makes the task really simple. The weight of this mammoth book is also erased with the electronic copy. There are two complaints about the Kindle version however: 1) it's not a real book, and I prefer handling most books (I think we all kind of do, right?) and 2) if you close the eReader while you are in the endnotes, your Kindle will recognize that page as being the further point you've read to. Remedying this situation isn't hard; you'll just need to log onto Amazon and clear your furthest-page-read, but it is a bit annoying.
###Here's Why You Should Buy This Book###
Some of the passages in this novel rank among my favorite all-time sections of writing. While Wallace can be verbose, it can lead to some of the most inventive and poetic turns of phrase. I found myself going back and re-reading many moments as soon as I finished them and highlighting them for later use (I rarely ever do this).
This book is funny, sad, smart, and silly. INFINITE JEST really runs the gamut in terms of emotions that it evokes. I've seen many readers talk about how funny it is, and others that focus on how tragic it is. There are moments in this book that I still reflect on and laugh out loud. There are moments that, when I think about them, make me want to cry. There are even moments in this that give me the goosebumps imagining how horrifying they would be.
INFINITE JEST is filled with tons of ideas and tons of characters. Readers will spend a lot of time with the characters here, and almost all of them are interesting. Some of them are fun, and some of them are despicable. Mario Incandenza ranks among one of my favorite characters in literature. Additionally, this book is full of ideas about addiction, entertainment, society, family, imperialism, Quebec separatism, and tennis. There's a lot of great insight spread out across the novel's length. There's not a ton of plotting to INFINITE JEST, but it's alright: these characters are often compelling enough that readers will want to spend their time with them.
It seems that half of the reason to read INFINITE JEST lies merely in the act of doing it. Most people bail on the book midway through, so finishing the novel is seen as a sort of accomplishment in some circles.
###Here's Why You Should Pass on This Book###
This book is too long. It surprised me to learn that INFINITE JEST had an editor and that sections of the book were excised. There are some stretches where not much seems to happen and no new insights are made. Most books leave me wanting the ending to go on and on forever, but there were times where I was just ready for this novel to be over (strangely enough, not at the ending though).
INFINITE JEST is wildly inconsistent. It probably comes with the territory of maximalist writing, but while some passages of writing are fantastic, some passages are equally dull. While I loved the book, I think it would be hard to argue that this novel is a solid, consistent work. Additionally, the novel frequently jumps (apropos of nothing) to different characters and different times and different settings. The narrative might be dealing with Hal Incandenza at a Boston tennis academy in the future only to suddenly (with, granted a line break) focus on a glimpse of his father in the 1970's. Even more additionally, the writing style changes frequently.
The use of styles can be jarring. I ended up liking this point, but I feel that I may be in the minority on this. Early in the book, an essay written by one of the characters (in high school) is recounted in full. Later, we are treated to stream-of-consciousness via a character we are not familiar with. Later, there are dozens of pages with nothing but dialog (literally, not figuratively), and some passages that are completely without dialog.
There's not much plot here. I haven't talked much about the plot in the above content because there's just not that much to talk about. The premise is: a filmmaker created a video that is so enjoyable, people can't turn away from it or think about anything else. Most of this book focuses in on its settings and characters to make its points.
Overall, I gotta say, even for all of its flaws, I really enjoyed INFINITE JEST. Some of the reviewers that rated this book poorly have good points to make, and I would recommend reading these reviews before making the plunge on buying this book. At the end of the day though, if you enjoy postmodern fiction, INFINITE JEST is definitely an experience worth trying.
Sadly, a few pages in, I just didn't get it and resigned, eventually giving away that particular edition to a local used bookstore. The narrative described a plethora of details that seemed unnecessary to the plot (what plot? har-har) and I stopped reading once I encountered a sentence that made zero sense to me: "I would yield to the urge to bolt for the door ahead of them if I could know that bolting for the door is what the men in this room would see." Like, huh? What else would they see, Dave? I just couldn't bring myself to read another word. The book had already stopped playing by one of my cardinal rules, which was to always make sense to the reader, always.
In a couple of years, things changed. Because of my college English lit classes, I was soon subjected to a barrage of mind-melting literature capable of completely changing the way I looked at fiction, especially the one-two punch of massive prose bricks Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow, both of which had been paired with separate books written by scholars just devoted to explain the avalanche of random references and symbols. It soon became apparent to me that just because a book didn't always make sense or hit the usual narrative notes, it didn't always mean that it was an inferior work. Both Ulysses and GR equally frustrated and astounded me depending on which section I was reading, and they both eventually made their way onto my "favorite books" list due to their complexity and inimitable composition.
And but so I went ahead and gave IJ another chance. For a college graduation gift, I had received my requested present of a 2nd-generation Kindle. I downloaded a free sample of IJ and found that it was the longest sample Amazon had (and still has) ever sent me - it hit close the 70-page mark in the physical book. I started reading and kept on reading until the end of the sample. Like a spaceship gravitating toward a gaping black hole, unable to turn itself away from the hole's crushing pull, I was compelled to outright buy the book and read the rest of it.
I won't bother to waste my words here on the peculiar and sprawling plot, as it frequently defies description (and can be summarized in other reviews here). Same goes for the unconventional structure: most people know about the voluminous collection of footnotes, but there's far more intricacy to it than that. Instead, I will keep it brief and to the absolute essential of what you should know about this book: It is amazing. It really is. Ever since I read it, it still remains the best novel I've ever read. And a lot of people (including those who choose to read it as a part of "Infinite Summer") feel or will feel the same way.
A lot of times, when I read a book for a certain length of time, I start feeling the itch to just hurry up and finish it as soon as possible so I can get onto the next book. It must be an addiction to novelty and newness or something, but it happens with almost every book I read: a desire to read every last word so I can soon stand in front of my bookshelf, twiddling my fingers with glee whilst weighing the options of what I'll read next. With IJ, that never happened. During the three months that it took me to read it, I had the sensation of feeling like 1100 pages were just not enough. With characters and concepts this unique and compelling, I needed at least another 2200 pages, minimum.
Oddly enough, even though this is my favorite book as yet, it is by no means perfect. As hinted at by the "bolting for the door" line above, DFW does not always make complete sense and sometimes leaves you scratching your noggin, wondering what he meant. Nor is every single passage golden and hallowed: some sections go on and on to your detriment and consternation (I'm thinking specifically between the long-winded, philosophical conversations in the desert shared between Marathe and Steeply, easily the worst and most boring sections of the book).
In addition, the book ends on an apparently random and unsatisfying note, leaving a lot of unresolved plot points and likely serving up a cold helping of dissatisfaction upon the first read-through -- the opposite of the warm and fuzzy feeling avid readers have of closing a book and thinking, "There was absolutely no better way that could have ended." (I'm planning on reading Chris Hager's lengthy and reference-laden undergrad thesis which defends and explains IJ's ending -- I just recently found it on DFW website "The Howling Fantods," but I haven't got the time right now to plow through it and underline important points with a pen.)
Despite these downsides, however, there is so much stuff that just works: the chilling, deadly methods of the Wheelchair Assassins; Poor Tony Krause's nightmarish drug detox in a public library bathroom; Joelle Van Dyne's attempted suicide in the bathroom of a party; the apocalyptic Eschaton match; a hilarious description of the rise and subsequent failure of video-phone technology; Gately's robbery and accidental murder of M. DuPlessis early on in the book; and so much more. Joelle, Orin, Mario, Pemulis, John "No Relation" Wayne, and especially my main man Gately are all ranked among my favorite fictional characters ever written.
One thing I dislike about some post-modern authors is their apparent clinical detachment from their own characters; while everything is beautifully and eloquently written, I often get a sense of coldness, as though the writers do not feel very much for or through their own characters. In this, there is a heavy lack of what I think of as "heart." (I sensed this frequently throughout Don Delillo's "White Noise," whose characters seemed kind of flat and emotionless.)
DFW, on the other hand, put so much heart in this particular work that it's sometimes too much to take. Whether it's addressing the pain of addiction, the heartbreak of losing a loved one, the horror of child abuse, or the pure inability to connect with others or experience happiness, it's clear that DFW surely channeled many of his own fears and insecurities through his fictional creations and put much of himself down on the page as a result.
In contrast, there are also many parts of the book that are simply and uproariously hilarious. DFW boasted a very sharp and immediate sense of humor along his skills of prosaic manipulation. The edifice of Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House[sic], Don Gately's shrewd but uneducated observations & criminal upbringing, and the overall world of consumerism gone horrifically wrong as encouraged by the rampant rise of corporations are all fertile fields for the novel's more humorous sensibilities. There were many times that IJ brought on a spate of giggling in me so pronounced that I had to just put down the book and allow it to pass before I could continue.
Now, be advised that this book is not for everyone. Lord, no. Just because I and others enjoyed it so greatly does not mean that everybody will feel the same way. It's a very challenging and demanding work, and it seems designed for a very particular audience. Anyone hoping for a nicely-defined plot or simple themes will find him-or-herself quickly thwarted. Others looking for some kind of a point to the apparently pointless ramblings of admittedly inconsequential details or conversations that pack hundreds of pages, a lot of them enjoyable but ultimately unimportant to any overarching theme, will also go bananas with vexation.
IJ was never designed to nab a Pulitzer or a National Book Award, never designed to go down in the annals of literary greatness as one of those books that speak volumes to whoever reads it over the span of centuries. I think that it will connect most with collegiate types who grew up Gen-X and beyond, the ones who have, as children or young adults, especially experienced the constant bombardment of unconscious marketing by huge conglomerates, as well as the ubiquity of "the entertainment" whether through television and video cassettes or (later on) DVDs and the Internet. Anyone who has grown up in this age of easy access to non-stop stimulation will likely understand what DFW intended to lambaste with this particular book.
Now down to brass tacks: I own both the Kindle copy and the regular paperback edition (obtained at a used book sale along with a copy of Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union for a $1, probably the best used book purchase I've ever made). Given the size of this beast, I would heartily recommend the Kindle format for a first-time reader if you've got the appropriate technology. The Kindle version makes flipping back and forth between the main text and the footnotes a breeze, and let's face it, do you really want to lug that huge book around? (Unless maybe you're trying to broadcast to other people what it is that you're reading so you can more easily strike up a conversation with someone who has parallel literary tastes to you, to which I say go right ahead and get the door-stopper, then.)
We lost a genius and heartfelt mind in 2008 when Wallace committed suicide, but at the very least, he has left behind this amazing and one-of-a-kind labor of love that continues to inspire and confound the people who read it long after he left us. Not sure if you'll enjoy the book or not? Try downloading the free sample. As far as I know, it's just as long as it was when I first began this massive undertaking, and it'll give you a very good sense of what you're about to experience for the next couple of months. If you're not the intended audience, you can always put the book down. But if you are, you'll find that you too can't stop reading, and your life will likely be as irrevocably changed as mine was by this extraordinary book. Welcome to Infinite Jest.