Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Posted April 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Infinite Jest by David Foster WallaceTitle: Infinite Jest (Goodreads)
Author: David Foster Wallace
Published: Back Bay Books, 1996
Pages: 1079
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In the not so distant future, the residents of a Boston halfway house for recovering addicts and the students of the Enfield Tennis Academy both search for the master copy of a bizarre movie that is so entertaining the viewers die in a state of catatonic bliss. That movie is called Infinite Jest and it is said that anyone who watches it will lose all desire to do anything but watch it. This semi-parodic novel questions what entertainment is and why it dominates our lives.

I’m not going to lie, this book is both lengthy and difficult to read but in the end it is worth the effort. You will need three bookmarks for this book, one for where you are up to, another for the endnotes and the third for the timeline that sits around page 80. You do need to read the endnotes, this book relies heavily on them; they include definitions, side thoughts, in depth details and even a filmology. You will also need to know the timeline because David Foster Wallace likes to jump around a bit, so it helps to keep up. This is where it gets tricky; in the book’s future each year has a corporate sponsorship, so you have Year of the Whopper, Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar and so on. It helps to know in what order the years are in so you can piece it all together. While all this might help you keep track of what’s going on there is still the fact that this book is piled with subplot after subplot and you will have to keep track of more characters than A Game of Thrones novel. You will need to keep notes and it might even be a good idea to get a study guide because this book will take you on a very interesting ride.

As I said before, this book is not easy; I took my time with it and slowly chipped away at this book for two months but I still think I’ve missed a lot. While there are some tangents that happen in the endnotes, this book jumps around so much that sometimes you get lost and have to go back. There shouldn’t be any shame in doing this as Wallace’s writing voice is a postmodern mixture of high- and low-brow linguistic traits which is very difficult to become familiar with. He also uses juxtaposes, colloquialisms and polysyllabic and highly esoteric words so you will need to spend some time researching.

Now that I’ve talked about the difficulties of reading the book, I should probably talk about my thoughts on it. Infinite Jest starts off rather dense, you really need to push through the first few hundred pages before things start to make any real sense. So why is this book considered a masterpiece, magnum opus or anything else it has been referred to? It’s not to read; rather it is a book that will challenge us, to rattle us out of complacency. For me I think David Foster Wallace has the ability to take something like substance addiction, recovery programs, depression, abuse, death, relationships, popular entertainment and even tennis and look at it in a very careful way. The way Wallace explores each topic may make you feel uncomfortable and it is confronting but you do gain a deeper understanding.  Yet the book doesn’t remain dry and depressing; Wallace has a very unique way of using humour to basically satirise the issues without making fun of them.

This book is a parody and comment on American culture, yet this is also a semi-autobiographical novel of the issues facing the author. Creating this funny but bitter sweet novel that I found difficult not to associate with the life of David Foster Wallace; his depression that lead to his suicide.  There is a lot going on in this novel and to go through all the major themes within this novel would probably turn this review into something too long to read so if you want to talk about themes I’ll leave that for the comments. So just a brief overview; the main character Hal Incandenza is an intelligent tennis prodigy dealing with the intense pressure put on him to succeed in a junior Tennis Academy, dealing with a drug addiction and the ongoing strain (both physical and emotional) to reach his full potential. While that is an understated summary, all the subplots makes it hard to cover, this is just the basis of the book.

Addiction and depression would be the two major themes in the most brutally confronting depiction of the struggles I’ve ever read. No other book has given me the insight like this one. I feel like the depiction of depression is often wrong in books and movies; depression is a complex thing, it’s not a state, it’s an overall feeling that can’t be shaked. One of the characters in the book; Kate tried to commit suicide because “[she] just didn’t want to feel this way anymore” and “[she’d] rather feel nothing than this”. This tragically honest view on depression really opened my eyes on the state of mind and the struggles that people dealing with depression go through, and for this only, Infinite Jest was worth reading.

The futuristic America created in Infinite Jest feels very much like western society now, just with the increased corporate involvement but that is the way the world is heading. I am reminded of dystopian classics with his satire of society and the social/cultural commentary. It really covers a lot of interesting topics and, while it is difficult, well worth reading.

This is one of those books I plan to re-read once I have a degree in Literature behind me; while I got a lot out of this novel, I am hit with the feeling that I’ve only scratched the surface. This is rather impressive novel overall, never have I seen a novel with over 60% of Goodreads users rating the book five stars and for good reason, the book covers a lot of topics and does it really well. Blending serious topics with an awkward sense of humour is balanced perfectly, and I highly recommend reading Infinite Jest; even if it is only to increase your pretentious levels.

0 responses to “Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

  1. Violet

    I need to read this, don’t I? You make it sound a lot more interesting than it appears from what I’ve seen by flicking through the book several times and then deciding, “Not today”, and putting it back on the shelf.

    However, you’ve whetted my appetite somewhat. I should probably start rounding up the bookmarks. 🙂

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