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Infinite Jest Paperback – November 13, 2006
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From the Back Cover
Infinite Jest is the name of a movie said to be so entertaining that anyone who watches it loses all desire to do anything but watch it. People die happily, viewing it in endless repetition. The novel Infinite Jest is the story of this addictive entertainment, and in particular how it affects a Boston halfway house for recovering addicts and a nearby tennis academy, whose students have many budding addictions of their own. As the novel unfolds, various individuals, organizations, and governments vie to obtain the master copy of Infinite Jest for their own ends, and the denizens of the tennis school and the halfway house are caught up in increasingly desperate efforts to control the movie - as is a cast including burglars, transvestite muggers, scam artists, medical professionals, pro football stars, bookies, drug addicts both active and recovering, film students, political assassins, and one of the most endearingly messed-up families ever captured in a novel. On this outrageous frame hangs an exploration of essential questions about what entertainment is, and why it has come to so dominate our lives; about how our desire for entertainment interacts with our need to connect with other humans; and about what the pleasures we choose say about who we are. Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction without sacrificing for a moment its own entertainment value. The huge cast and multilevel narrative serve a story that accelerates to a breathtaking, heartbreaking, unforgettable conclusion. It is an exuberant, uniquely American exploration of the passions that make us human - and one of those rare books that renew the very idea of what a novelcan do.
About the Author
David Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1962 and raised in Illinois, where he was a regionally ranked junior tennis player. He received bachelor of arts degrees in philosophy and English from Amherst College and wrote what would become his first novel, The Broom of the System, as his senior English thesis. He received a masters of fine arts from University of Arizona in 1987 and briefly pursued graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University. His second novel, Infinite Jest, was published in 1996. Wallace taught creative writing at Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College, and published the story collections Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion, the essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Consider the Lobster. He was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award, and was appointed to the Usage Panel for The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. He died in 2008. His last novel, The Pale King, was published in 2011.
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###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.
The book has 3 major sections:
Hal and his friends attend Enfield Tennis Academy. The school is run by Hal's mom and it is a prestigious learning center both scholastically as well as for tennis. The school regularly funnels their attendants to high ranked colleges which eventually lead to places in the "show". Hal and his friends are smart, they work hard, are overly stressed and dabble in drugs.
Hal is part of the Incandenza Family which consists of their father who blew his head off in the microwave. Mother who runs the school and Hal's deformed but loved younger brother that follows him around. Previous to his death the father created an entertainment that was so powerful that it leaves people unable to stop watching which causes their death.
Now we also have Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents who are french Canadian separatists They are seeking the video in order to decimate the U.S. population.
If this isn't enough we also have the Ennet House Recovery program which is on the same property as the tennis academy. We get an introduction to life in a 12 step program for recovery because we get a lot of the work drone on the academy by these recovering residents.
While the summary I'm giving is very general. The magic is that while reading in each section the book becomes more understandable. IJ requires paying attn. There are footnotes after footnotes and not reading the footnotes will mean you lose a significant part of the story.
My outline is very general I will refrain from talking about the model that was Madame Pyschosis, the various convoluted relathionships in the Incandenza family. I would focus more on what I enjoy.
I've been someone who has dealt with addiction issues and the pieces regarding Ennet HOuse Recovery ring true for me and his quirky but detailed description of the meetings are spot on.
Finally DFW converges all these things into a final scene. While not all of it are resolved we see enough of it to gather how the future will unfold.
This description is haphazard but the join is actually in the reading of the book. DFW's prose is like none other. He is a genius of word play, grammar play, and just sliding in the perfect sentence.
There's a lot of footnotes and I strongly suggest you read all of them. They are not just tangential information but they also add to our knowledge of events/characters.
I rarely read a book twice. IJ I read twice and likely will re read again. He speaks to me in a way that I'm sure is sui generis. As a kid looking for a mentor to write in a highly literate way, who talks about things I'm interested in: depression, addiction: family. It just hit me at the write time to be that special something.While I won't go so far as to say IJ is my religion (creepy!) I definitely come away with some teachings that I can implement into my life.