- Hardcover: 1088 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (February 1, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316920045
- ISBN-13: 978-0316920049
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 2.2 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,227 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Infinite Jest: A Novel Hardcover – February 1, 1996
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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.
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.
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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.
David Foster Wallace's magnum opus is definitely one of the most polarizing popular novels in recent memory. It is rare to find a reader who is lukewarm about this book -- one tends to either love it or loathe it enormously.
The main problem the loathers seem to have with IJ is that, to them, there is either no plot or the plot is too hard to follow. I disagree as it actually has a very tightly constructed narrative that opens with a series of vignettes that orient the reader to the universe (in dystopias I believe this is called "universe"-or-"world building") through the perspective of various characters, some more consequential than others. The seemingly scattered opening does not, however, mean that Infinite Jest is another one of those somewhat plotless postmodern academic tomes... the category that "Gravity's Rainbow" arguably could fit into.
On the contrary IJ contains a wonderful (and obviously allegorical) narrative that carries the reader through a not so distant North America completely consumed by its relentless desire to entertain itself... and corporations' eagerness to provide avenues to fulfill those desires. Yes, this is an idea-heavy novel with many strong philosophical, technical, intellectual, and meditative passages -- many of which are dazzlingly well written, such as the AA meetings, Hal's depression battle, the nature of celebrity envy, etc. etc. -- but they are woven into a fun and tragic plot that with a little trust and patience with the author are not hard to follow.
If you are thinking about buying and reading this novel, don't be afraid you won't be able to "get it"... that's so overblown by its reputation as a classic literary masterpiece... ironically a label Wallace himself hated because it changes how readers approach books.
Here's a loose outline of the plot, in the order it's presented narratologically.
-- 17 y/o tennis star and lexical genius Hal Incandenza (Protagonist A) has a nervous breakdown during a college interview at Arizona. This is in first person and is the "last" event in the book's chronology.
-- Switch to third person and back to an earlier times. The years can be tricky because they're named after corporate products rather than numbered. There is a reference key early on. Other characters are introduced, including a white collar pot addict (who doesn't return till far later), Hal's older brothers Orin and Mario and their mother Avril, an unnamed black girl from Boston, Hal's late-father James, and Hal's friends and tennis teammates from his athletic boarding school, Enfield Tennis Academy in Massachusetts. Certain chapters are entirely dialogue or entirely inside the mind and voice of a character. Others are more conventionally narrated in Wallace's patented tragicomic style.
-- Oral narcotics addict Don Gatley (protagonist B) is introduced. He is at rock bottom and kills a man on accident who turns out to be a Canadian terrorist leader stationed in Brookline.
-- We learn more about ETA. Hal's father James founded it and his mother and uncle now run it together.
-- Remy Marathe and Hugh/Helen Steeply are introduced. They are secret agents on opposing sides (Canada/US) in a convoluted triple-cross, ultimately trying to locate "Infinite Jest" (aka The Entertainment), a film cartridge so entertaining that one cannot stop watching it and dies. Quebecois assassins want it as a weapon. Hal's dad was the filmmaker, and he wanted to be buried with the master copy after his suicide. Many of the details surrounding the film itself, including how it leaked, are open to speculation. The search for this film is what winds the two narrative halves together... even if they don't meet exactly in the text itself. :)
-- We learn about Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House [sic], just across the street from ETA, where Don is now a live in staffer and on 400-something days of full sobriety. Many characters are introduced here.
-- We meet Joelle (aka Madam Psychosis), a radio host who tries killing herself with a crack OD. She ends up at Ennet House.
-- Now that the new world (its technologies, its politics, its culture, its characters from the 3 main settings) have been introduced, the narrative motion takes a backseat to Wallace's at times indulgent but always brilliant and entertaining scenes in which the characters really come alive and interact. We get some great tennis writing as well as the best addiction/sobriety writing in modern fiction.
-- The plot picks back up after a major catalyst event I won't spoil here. But the chances are if you made it through all the foregoing anchor points (which only scratch the surface and are strictly to prove the point that this novel is well plotted), there's a good chance you're not putting IJ down till the end.