Thoughts on Infinite Jest – Part 1

It’s been a while since I finished reading Inifinite Jest and I wrote down my thoughts about the book down the old fashioned way — stylus and papyrus. This is part one.

  • Infinite Jest (IJ) is unlike any novel I have ever read because it is simply one of those books that defies classification. If someone asked or asks me what IJ is about, I’ll have a hard time answering that question. IJ has themes, stories, characters but try to slot it into the standard body of fiction and you’ll find it won’t fit. Seriously, this novel defies pigeon-holing in a good way. There’s no nice way to wrap things up in a box and tie it with a lovely bow. At least I couldn’t do it.
  • David Foster Wallace (DFW hereafter) somehow makes you care about his characters, even the ones that you don’t like, in the sense that you want to know what’s going to happen to them.
  • DFW had a wicked – and I mean that in a good way – sense of humour. In IJ, the humour is sometimes dark, sometimes a play on language, sometimes juvenile, or sometimes situational but it’s almost always funny.
  • DFW was a genius. He could’ve been a mathematics professor or anything else I guess but his readers are lucky that he chose writing. Also, there are parts of IJ that would not have been out of place in a philosophy book.
  • DFW’s take on addiction and Alcoholics Anonymous is brilliant as is his description of what it feels like to be depressed and/or suicidal. DFW explains the two in a way that you can’t help but empathize.
  • The chapter where Erdedy waits for pot is one of the most brilliant pieces of fiction that I have ever read. It can be read as a standalone story. So read it already.
  • In the same vein, the essay – Why the video phone never took off (or something similarly titled) – is pure DFW – funny, insightful, and a tad neurotic.
  • IJ has some of the most horrifying scenes that I have ever read and it’s not just the explicit stuff that is scary but what is implied.
  • After I finished IJ, I went back to the beginning of the book to read it again. There is a circular kind of narrative and because the beginning is the end, it’s almost like you’re pulled into going back again. I’d like to call it a vicious circle except that it’s not vicious – in some ways, the book itself is like the movie cartridge that people are trying to find, you can’t tear yourself away from the book and you want to keep reading. At some level, maybe DFW intended this to be an effect for the reader. Just maybe.
  • I read IJ after DFW had passed away and I felt incredibly sad throughout the book knowing that he was no longer alive to create more works of fiction. (Greedy I know.) DFW’s writing is powerful and the connection he makes is at a deep, primal, human level. I could even say that there’s a connection at a subconscious level because the book really affects you.
  • I didn’t like the ending of IJ except that the ending is not the ending. I should say that I didn’t like where the book stopped. You kinda got the feeling that it would end in a way that wouldn’t give you the resolution that you hoped but still you could not stop reading. Also, because DFW doesn’t bring things together in the traditional sense, you are forced to think about the characters that you spent time with, make assumptions, and figure out the ending. It’s somewhat like proving a theorem in mathematics, for the geeks among you.
  • IJ should not be the first work of DFW that you read. His essays are far more accessible – as a reader – and should be the appetizer before the IJ main course. His writing style takes some getting used to and you’re better off doing that with the essays.
  • There are very few works of fiction that have blown me away. Lord of the Rings is one book that comes to mind, Infinite Jest is another. Some writers are on a different plane, rarefied atmosphere so to speak.
  • Dave Eggers’ introduction to IJ explains why reading literary or serious fiction has its rewards. (If you have this particular edition or chance upon it, read the introduction. It’s great stuff from another very talented writer.) I’m one of those who used to shy away from literary stuff because most of the time I found stuff hard to read and even if I read the stuff, it didn’t necessarily seem all that good. There is a great deal of effort involved in reading IJ but it’s worth it. After reading IJ, I realize that some literary works are just authors trying to show you how smart they are. This is not the case with DFW or IJ.
  • More thoughts in part 2, when that happens.

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