Saturday, July 4, 2015

Book Review: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest is the Pacific Coast Trail of books. Incredible scenery, but still, it's so much to do that many have turned off the trail before it's done. Since I've been on sabbatical I figured it's now or never for this half-a-million-word book. I'm very glad I did, but I was surprised by which parts I liked best.

There's three basic plot lines: a tennis academy of high achievers (including a flawed but fascinating family at its center), a halfway house of addicts and ex-addicts, and political/sci-fi satire of where we're going as a society. Before reading, I would have thought I'd prefer the poli-sci-fi most and the halfway house least, but it was precisely the opposite. It's the halfway house through the story of Don Gately that was compellingly horrifying and hopeful in all the right ways. In the other storylines the satire occasionally stepped so far out of reality that I laughed but with a smirk rather than the laugh of recognition (and/or the shudder) that I got from Gately's desperate circumstances.

For this reason, I actually look forward to The Pale King. Given what I like most about Infinite Jest, DFW writing about boredom and the IRS is going to be amazing.

DFW is a generous writer. Perhaps too generous at times. But on every page there's a well-turned phrase or touching insight, and since there's more than 1000 pages, that adds up to a unique experience.

Some of the plot turns on a movie that is more compelling than it should be, somehow reaching into your soul and changing you, narrowing you and reducing you to a mindless addict. The book itself is also more compelling than it should be, but it changes you to broaden your perspective and take in more than you saw before.

In the halfway house especially, the story descends to the bottom and also goes the farthest, and though the resolution remains at a distance, from the top of the mountain the veil lifts, and it (the resolution) can be glimpsed even if, for now, it can't be touched.

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