Infinite Jest is kicking my ass

Infinite Jest, David Foster WallaceThis is the longest it’s ever taken me to read a book. And I’m not finished it yet.

Page 742, of 1079, of which, starting from page 983, are end notes labelled Notes and Errata.

I started reading David Foster Wallace’s opus in December, it’s late July, as an ill-fated attempt to start the world’s smallest book club with my boyfriend, who devoured it months ago. And I march on, undeterred. Okay, a little deterred.

Do I like it? Am I enjoying it? Is it really good? I get asked when someone notices the purplish-blue and yellow dictionary-sized book at my desk, under my arm or in my hands as I read on the subway. But given its back-and-forth structure, depth, length, creative wordplay (as in, he makes words up and throws in regional French here and there) and interweaving, minutely-detailed stories, not to mention the laborious end notes, which themselves sometimes go on for pages, enjoy isn’t quite the right word.

I can see its genius – yes genius – and plod on because I appreciate that it requires such active participation. Story lines that seemed superfluous and frayed 300 pages back are starting to be tethered to something resembling a narrative and there are fits of just mesmerizing storytelling and some eerily prophetic notions about our relationship to technology. But it’s work, let me tell you.

I’ve never really entertained the idea of abandoning it because I’m hoping that by page 1079, I’ll have that satisfying moment where I can see how the pieces fit together and GET IT. But it’s more likely the dearly departed Wallace will not make it that easy for me; he’s much too clever. I found it more than a little heartening when I discovered only yesterday that it took him five years to write this massive novel. My sluggish pace is about right then.

And the winking nod that is the title itself isn’t lost on me. I have considered that the novel, and getting people to read it, nevermind heap praise on it and eventually write university papers about its numerous themes or say use it as inspiration for a music video like The Decemberists or fake law firm names like “Parks and Recreation,” might be Wallace’s own immaculately rendered infinite jest. I’d like to think I’m in on the joke but then I’m sure everyone who’s read it would.

I really do want to finish it before the end of the summer and move on to something that, while nowhere near a beach read (I abhor the term and idea behind it), isn’t a literary albatross.

It’s certainly a book whose completion will feel more like an accomplishment than maybe anything else I’ve read by choice. It’s not for a grade and, now, not even for post-reading discussion; it’s just for me. Don’t tell me how it ends.

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2 thoughts on “Infinite Jest is kicking my ass

  1. You will get the Infinite Jest part so much more once you finished. The length is part of it but.. ya you should finish it. It’s awesome.

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