Title: Infinite Jest
Author: David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace, you’ve gotten the better of me.
Now I’m at page 499, and I’ve decided I’m going to put it down for a while, and to be perfectly frank I can’t imagine when I’ll ever be motivated to pick it back up again.
I’m only halfway through the damn book! It’s a monster. It’s got almost a hundred pages of footnotes. Some of the footnotes actually have their own footnotes.
This is a huge (some might say epic) tour de farce concerning competitive tennis, avant-garde filmmaking, radical Canadian separatism, substance abuse and twelve-step recovery programs.
It’s written in a post-modern style which apparently turns some people on, but which I find indicative of an utter contempt for the reader. He likes to use the word “like” a lot. He likes to start sentences with strings of conjunctions. And but so what really bugs me are the parts that seem like purposefully convoluted, almost aggressively so. Consider this gem from page 228:
Joelle’s never seen the completed assembly of what she’d appeared in, or seen anyone who’s seen it, and doubts that any sum of scenes as pathologic as he’d stuck that long quartzy auto-wobbling lens on the camera and filmed her for could have been as entertaining as he’d said the thing he’d always wanted to make had broken his heart by ending up.
It hurt me to type that.
Which is not to say it’s all dreck. Certain passages I’ve found very rewarding, such as the diagnosis of medical mannerisms, a speculative future history of video telephony, an account of the great tongue-scraper craze, a debunking of some myths surrounding fame, and so on. Probably the most consistently interesting thread has been the exploration of what recovery programs like AA feel like from the inside.
But it’s not enough. I found myself staring down yet another five-page paragraph, and I realized I just can’t take it anymore. I don’t care about the characters or situations depicted in the book, and I’ve got a stack of other things to read that all look ten times more interesting.
I hate giving up on a book halfway through, but I can’t see spending another three months on this.
(I usually render a verdict on books I write about here, but I don’t feel it’s fair to do that for a book I haven’t finished. If you’re at all intrigued, and you’re in New Orleans, you can get your own copy at Octavia Books.)
Update: On September 12, 2008, David Foster Wallace killed himself. I hope it wasn’t because of the disparaging comments made here.