Monday, October 4, 2010

Infinite Jest

After a month of reading I finished up Infinite Jest last week. There are a number of reasons people talk about the book, although the most often referenced is it's length - the books is almost 1100 pages long and the last 100 pages are endnotes that range from descriptions of drugs in the main text to extended conversations between main characters.

So yes its really long, but it was also the work of an incredibly intelligent but often troubled human trying to write a modern novel. Not the great American novel, per se, but something that speaks to end the 20th century. It's no coincidence that it's a novel centered around a deadly piece of video entertainment. This book was an attempt to speak to present and near future of the internal and external damage of American life. Placing the book in what was at the time the near future, (the years are now about concurrent with out time, the main year was either 2009 or maybe 2011) was a ballsy move. Not surprisingly, the technological predictions were going to be off, but the work has a boldness that defined what Wallace did in everything he wrote, both fiction and non-fiction.

The book's two main settings are a tennis academy and drug rehab house. And between these we get the two main drives of America: fame (all the academy kids refer to going pro as "The Show") and for excess. But this is not a novel with a simple narrative arc of a person's rise and fall. It's an odd and moving book that wears it's weirdness proudly. There are wheelchair bound Quebecois terrorists, a disturbing string of pet murders, a teenager memorizing the Oxford English Dictionary and Subsidized Time, brought about by a crazy OCD president whose platform for running is Howard Hughes-ian in it's craziness.

Why read this? I'm going to put it boldly - if you've watched The Wire and are looking for the next great piece of art of our times, this is it. It's as immense and sad and beautiful, even thought it's nothing at all like the Wire. But it's a journey worth taking.

1 comment:

B.Graham said...

oooh that's going on my list, for sure..