Infinite Jest – 100 Pages At A Time

So 100 pages in… what is Infinite Jest about?

Well just to begin…

A teenager trying to get into a fancy tennis school.

A unidentified man waiting for a delivery of drugs.

A medical attache to a Prince, obsessively watching an unspecified video on repeat.

Brothers, families.

A series of burglaries.

An accidental murder.

A woman hospitalized for depression.

Drugs. All kinds of drugs.

Teachers and students at the aforementioned tennis school.

Large gangs of feral hamsters that have taken over major parts of New England.

Espionage. Double Agents. Triple Agents. Quadruple Agents. Maybe. A cross-dressing agent (who cross-dresses, apparently, only for the amusement of his superiors).

And a great many of all these things connect. Most of the book, so far, is written in third person, but several passages (shorter ones, mostly) have been in first person. There’s more I’ve forgotten I’m sure (it occurs to me there’s a brief passage about rape, child abuse, and other problems in an apartment in the ‘hood). But the writing is absolutely brilliant and I’m already seeing the threads coming together.

And there’s still 9/10s of the book to go.

However, I will say that I vehemently disagree with Dave Eggers’ statement from the introduction where he says that it does not “want to send you to the dictionary every few pages” (Eggers, xiii).  There’s such obtuse (yet beautiful) vocabulary that I want to know what it all means.

My favorite part so far?  When Wallace uses the line, “[they] finish their swift and with-the-best-of-intentions non-violent business of stripping the Brookline home as bare as a post-feral-hamster meadow” (Wallace 58).

This line is funny to me.  When I first read it, I made a mental note and then laughed.  How ridiculous a notion!  But I also thought it was a simple throw-away line.

NOT SO!

Several chapters later, the robbery of the home mentioned in that chapter (as well as about three or four other plot threads) are mentioned briefly after a completely surreal (and hilarious) discussion between to secret agents, one of whom is a double (triple? possibly quadruple?) agent.

The addendum chapter begins, “It’s a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains…in what used to be Vermont.  The herd is descended from two domestic hamsters set free … at the beginning of the Experialist migration in the subsidized Year of the Whopper.”

Yes, feral hamsters have taken over most of northern New England.  Apparently, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire… these are all a part of Canada now.  Why?  I don’t know yet.

But let me briefly explain the line of “the subsidized Year of the Whopper.”

Each year in the book has its own corporate sponsor.  The Year of the Whopper, The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, The Year of Dairy Products From the American Heartland… several more.  Even the short hand of these years is used… i.e.: 3 November Y.D.A.U.

Why?  I have no earthly idea, but thus far most events seem to occur in the Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment.

So far, would I recommend this book?  Without a doubt and definitely.  But it isn’t for casual readers.  This book demands much of you.  Your concentration, your ability to track dozens of characters across multiple time periods, even remembering strange throw-away lines that turn out not to be.

Coming from someone who finished the (much more straightforward) book The Instructions without much trouble…  This is difficult reading.  Not bad in my opinion.  But I certainly work to get through chapters.  Analyzing everything, questioning everything.  But the book is stunningly written.

Characters emerge fully formed in even the briefest of chapters and I honestly can’t wait to meet them again as I keep reading.  If you have any interest in the brilliance and genius of modern writing (and you’ve already read the brilliant Midnight’s Children), I suggest you read this.

Unplug your phone, toss your computer in the trash, close your curtains, and curl up with a dictionary and Infinite Jest.  If you make it out alive, I think you’ll enjoy it.

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