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Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest is nothing if not aptly titled: after reading nearly 100 pages it seems to me to be one huge joke.

I’d been wanting and meaning to read IJ for years, and the more I heard about the book and its author, the more I wanted to read it—but a thousand-something pages? I still haven’t finished War and Peace! Finally, after seeing The End of the Tour, I began.

In the first three chapters I found gems of wisdom buried in acres of verbiage, and was in serious need of guidance; I went to the Internet and found dozens, if not hundreds, of sites dedicated to IJ. I read a few reviews and reader discussions, scanned the Wiki site, and returned to reading. But now, fresh from laudatory reviews by people whose opinions I respect, and gushing declarations by fans and readers, my gut reaction was: You’ve got to be kidding! I mean, huge chunks of IJ are absolutely unreadable. The boredom, the repetition, the footnotes, many of them wholly unnecessary: was DFW putting us on?

Wallace committed suicide in 2008, 12 years after the fame and glory that followed IJ. I don’t know enough about the guy to speculate, but it’s safe to say there was some sort of mad genius going on in there. IJ is indeed a work of mad genius—so much so that I’m somewhat scared to admit my lack of enchantment. David Eggers, who wrote a somewhat negative and astute review of IJ when it came out, has hidden or somehow banished his review from the public; many years after IJ‘s outsized fame he wrote a foreword to the book that was purely positive, expressing the opinion that not a single sentence of IJ is imperfect, not a word out of place. Duck and cover, Eggers!

Thus, to ward off my fear of fans and laudatory literary luminaries who will surely attack my intelligence, or lack of same: for the record, my favorite author is Doris Lessing—no literary slouch—and I’ve slogged through, even delighted in, the works of Henry James, Thomas Mann, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Edith Wharton, to name just a few who can be rough going.

Is Infinite Jest a work of infinite jest? Is it The Emperor’s New Clothes? No: the shame is, this probably could have been a  much more accessible, readable, and therefore better novel. In the final analysis, Infinite Jest is a powerful testament to the utter absence of bold, intelligent editing in the publishing world today.

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2 responses »

  1. Merci! Gracias! Thank you! While my daughter, no slouch, enjoyed it so much she just turned around and started it again, I am of your school. i waited to have the time to devote to it, I put a lot of energy and thought into it, and I was actually repelled by the book. At a certain point I did not even want to hold it in my hands.

    i admit to loving long, complex and difficult books. Moby Dick is one of my all time favorites, and I have read it word for word, cover to cover, three times. I can quote it. I own several copies, the favorite of which is the edition with Fletcher Martin’s illustrations, which he executed while living in Woodstock.

    I have read War and Peace seven times and am about to read it again, although the copy I have now is fairly stiff and not easy to hold. It is a “new” translation, and I might go back and find a used softer version to actually curl up with this winter.

    All that said, I would rather read about squeezing whale fat, or about Pierre describing the gruesome results of the Battle of Borodino, than read another word of infinite Jest. I’m sad that men need to support one another even in the light of failure, in order not to be out of step with the times.

    The Golden Notebook is a beautiful work of complex art, and Doris Lessing moved her writing into a wide variety of genres over the decades. The other writers you cite are also among my favorites.

    Write on, Marci

  2. I never could get into Infinite Jest. Either the emperor has no clothes, or the title says it all. Great review, Marcy!

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