My Infinite Quest Is Over

Around about this time last year, I decided to tackle David Foster Wallace‘s epic (in size and scope) novel Infinite Jest. I put it aside after about 100 pages or so, realizing that I wasn’t in a situation where I could really concentrate on it, and it does demand concentration.

I started over again a couple months or so ago, finally finishing it a week ago. I am not a slow reader, though certainly not fast, either. However, I found that I could only consume IJ in fairly small doses, in the meantime reading maybe 5 or 6 other books of less, shall we say, chewiness? Various factors came into play at different times which conspired to keep me from reading more than perhaps 50 pages at a clip. Sometimes it was the subject matter: substance abuse, suicide, loneliness (perhaps the last being the central theme resulting in the first two?). At other times it might be the writing style and vernacular, which changes depending on character viewpoint and other reasons perhaps only known to the author. Also, knowing that Mr. Wallace later committed suicide, it could be depressing wondering which parts (if not all, I suppose) of the book dealing with depression and/or suicide were autobiographical.

I’m not going to bother trying to tell you the plot (which is convoluted and multifaceted to say the least) or about the characters (ditto). You can get plenty of that on the web. What I will say is that, contrary to Amazon’s blurb (“A gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the Pursuit of Happiness in America…”), it is not a comedy. Yes, there are some funny moments, and even more instances of absurdity that may make you smile, if a bit uncomfortably. There is also drug abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide, murder, animal mutilation, and so on — not to forget the aforementioned depression and suicide. I’m not saying it’s all a downer, but there is some serious stuff going on in a lot of it. A lot of that stuff can make the receptive reader think seriously and hopefully constructively about those topics, and in a few wonderful passages this reader had some almost revelatory moments when the author threw aside all pretenses and just let fly with some beautiful prose I could not put down until I reached the end of that section. Perhaps the best example of this was somewhere around Kindle location 4000, when he started describing things you can learn in a substance-abuse halfway house, gradually shifting from specific, rather mundane things to thoughts and revelations about life, in general.

That God might regard the issue of whether you believe there’s a God or not as fairly low on his/her/its list of things s/he/it’s interested in re you.

So, where does that leave me? I’m glad I read Infinite Jest, but it’s a book that probably requires more than one reading to get a lot out of it, and I’m fairly sure I won’t be able to convince myself to read it again. I can recommend it to those who like a challenge and want to exercise their brains while reading; but I’m pretty sure it’s not the right thing for those who mainly want characters they can relate to and plots that make sense. And if you demand an ending that wraps everything up in a neat package: fuggedaboutit!