Let me make myself clear. I am a fanboy.
Infinite Jest is no mean achievement. It’s not just another great work of fiction. It is something else. It is carefully and laboriously constructed, with every sentence crying to be read again, and again. It’s not easy to pick up this book from the shelf and start reading. It’s intimidating for the average reader, 1000 odd pages of text in tiniest of fonts, and close to 400 footnotes. They are actually end notes and to pass of a very low key comment about this book – it was the first book that required two book marks. Some of the end notes contain a whole different chapter, some of them stretch to tens of pages and smugly enough, there are footnotes to these end notes. David Foster Wallace loved the beautiful concept of recursion and he was quite vocal about it. Or should I say verbal?
This is not a review. I don’t think I am qualified enough to do that before revisiting those thousand pages. Twice. And I don’t see myself doing that in the near future because I feel quite spent with all the intense reading and humongous effort the whole thing took. I need to read Archie Comics or something like Chetan Bhagat before moving forward in my literary adventure. It took the whole of Fall (quite ironic that I missed Infinite Summer) to struggle my way through this artwork in the midst of work, family events, joblessness etc. Because whatever presumptions you may have, coffee table or in flight reading, this is not.
But there are a couple of things that could elevate the reading experience and make it relatively easier to complete your Infinite period. These are my observations and some of them I noticed thanks to random flipping of pages and stopping by after I finished the book.
- You’ll start feeling the pinch after about 100 pages. Do not give up. It is a mighty uphill task till page 250. But after that, things start looking good and falling in place. If they don’t, something is not working for you.
- The page that has the year list, somewhere around 220, is important. Mark it. You’ll keep visiting it whenever and wherever you’re lost.
- Don’t forget or ignore the end notes. Some of them may not make sense right away, or ever. But learn to live with them.
- This book is as American as it can get. The soul is so strikingly American that you’d start to think if the author himself is dysfunctional. It’s doubly as interesting if you’ve lived in America at some point of your life. And if you are from the Greater Boston area, it’s a treat. Commonwealth Avenue, Rt 20, I-90, Newton, Brookline and Logan. All of them playing important parts in the storyline. I am not from there. I spent around 7-8 hours of an overcast day, during March of this year, around these very interesting parts of Boston area(much to the disappointment of a dear friend, who I had not called then). But that old world charm of Boston is hard to miss, even for a few hours.
- More than halfway into the book, if a single piece is missing from the puzzle, it more or less means you forgot something. Go back.
- If something is missing from the initial few hundred pages, then don’t fret. They will start making sense soon.
- If you love tennis, or the even the type that watches only Grand Slam finals, pay attention when tennis is the subject or even better, a tennis match is the subject. These are the occasions when DFW is at his best. If you want a mild introduction to DFW’s writing before you start Infinite Jest, read this and this. It is widely believed that his journalism is relatively easy on the eyes and the head.
- Persevere. You’ll feel rewarded in the end. Remember this is something else.
- Before you complete it, don’t ever read anything about the book on the Internet! Cheeky, I know, but beware of spoilers and theories. I was fortunate enough to receive this advice and sensible enough to have followed it. And I am thankful that I did.
I’ll revisit this book two to three years later to see how well it reads then. I have no doubt that it would hold its own and be as lipsmackingly good as it is now. This is the work of a genius, a mind of epic limits that it really makes you think how much David Foster Wallace could have accomplished had he lived on. But as it is often said, you have to give genius its due, they have their own quirky ways of doing things and they know their craft better than anyone else.