recall an adage about chickens and their immature ova

” The patients are frequently visible at [VA Alzheimer’s rest home] #4’s windows… They give everyone at Ennet House the howling fantods. One ancient retired Air Force nurse does nothing but scream “Help!”for hours at a time from a second-story window. Since the Ennet House residents are drilled in a Boston-AA recovery program that places great emphasis on “Asking for Help” the retired shrieking nurse is the object of a certain grim amusement sometimes. Not six weeks ago, a huge stolen HELP WANTED sign was found attached to #4’s siding right below the retired shrieking nurse’s window.”

I am mostly done with this book. Praise Jaysus.

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is a fucking tome. And I mean that in the best way possible.

I won’t brag about the length (it’s very long), or the depth (total. snob. lit.). But I am a marginally well-adjusted U.S. adult male, and I’m going to need to make a last will and testament before I am 3/4 finished. If only because seeing those footnotes when I turn the last page will drive me to suicide.¹

The book takes place in a future (read: present) America in which an ex-pop-singer with hygienic OCD (think a Nick Carter who lasers his epidermis off nightly) has become president. It also takes place in an addiction-recovery halfway-house. In the Brighton projects of New Massachusetts. At an upscale capital-T Tennis academy. At an ice-cream parlour on the periphery of upscale capital-T Tennis academy. In a freebase-rank bathroom. At an AA meeting. You’ll meet more characters than you know real people. You’ll forget the bulk of them. One of them can’t form sentences by the end (beginning?) of the book. Ultimately, you’ll see why.

It’s not hyperbolic either, the title. At over a thousand-pages, a bulk of which reference either an item in the footnotes (which can end up being several pages itself, the item) or some other obscura from back in the double-digits pages (and back you trek), this is thick and challenging. I keep thinking: if author David Foster Wallace had lived in Mesopotamia, living off a diet of figs and confiding his ironic insights to commerce mules, and had been forced to write this on clay tablets, he would have needed his own personal ziggurat to store it. It’s heavy. When I take it around in my satchel bag it makes me look authentically studious. Imagine that.

These are the type of guys they had to get to write a Reader’s Guide to this thing. One of these motherfuckers has a pipe. A PIPE.

But it’s nice. I can’t think of a better word. It’s an experience. I had to kind of casually flip through the early travails when I lost my bookmark² and I realized that all I can muster, memory-wise, for the first couple of chapters is this vague sense that stuff happened to people. At the close, I’ll summarise it thusly: “I read a book.” The anecdotes and apocraphya disappear inside your memory, burrow into the root system and fertilize a sequoia-sized impression. Reading about a hug gone awry at a potheads-anonymous seminar on page 507, you’ve all but forgotten that one of the “huggers” [sic] had an anecdote to himself back on Page 37-39. The other hugger, who you’ve been following in isometric for about ten pages, had a total dope-dependency breakdown via interior monologue on page 17. You don’t remember that either though.

What you do remember is that when you made some tea and read this book for several hours, until your eyes started to twinge a bit from the fluorescence, and you went outside to have a “gasper” (cigarette – one of Wallace’s stylistic MOs is to invent his own slang), you were instantly and transcendently a nicer, kinder, more honest person than when you picked up the book. And it’s totally unintentional.
A word of warning: Wallace is wry. Wallace can also be a dick. That old adage “put your characters in a tree and throw rocks at them” signifies nothing to this gent: he actually feeds some characters rocks. But the book radiates a kind of sincere mother’s-nuture. Wallace gets inside heads. Wallace gets inside your head. And he makes you come to think that the canyons between me and you aren’t so inexhaustably deep. That maybe they aren’t canyons at all.
And you leave much better for it. You know, I’m just going to end up sounding like Oprah if I try to describe a book that actively, gently shaves away irony like this one does. Here’s a quote:
” Instead, what Infinite Jest provides is a 13 week irony detox program, designed to reduce the cynicism in your system at a slow enough rate that you don’t go all P.T.-Kraus-on-a-subway.” ~Matthew Baldwin, InfiniteSummer.org
¹If only because that means I’ll end up seeing those godawful footnotes again. There are 381 of them, in what is putatively a novel, and I have to keep an old spiral-notebook sheet from my ethics class (irony) as a roving bookmark, plus a few more (BritLit, Health, Appreciation of Film) as static ones for important-looking passages.
²Rest assured, I screamed “no” in true B-movie fashion as it fluttered to Earth.
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