Formidable Friday: Infinite Jest

Posted 20 December, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Formidable Friday: Infinite JestInfinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Published by Little, Brown Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 1088

A gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the Pursuit of Happiness in America set in an addicts' halfway house and a tennis academy, and featuring the most endearingly screwed-up family to come along in recent fiction, Infinite Jest explores essential questions about what entertainment is and why it has come to so dominate our lives; about how our desire for entertainment affects our need to connect with other people; and about what the pleasures we choose say about who we are. Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction without sacrificing for a moment its own entertainment value. It is an exuberant, uniquely American exploration of the passions that make us human - and one of those rare books that renew the idea of what a novel can do.

Upon finishing this book the first feeling that I had was elation that I had actually finished it. Infinite Jest is an extraordinary book, but it is difficult and you do have to want it.

Catch-22 and Brave New World seem to have influenced Wallace in writing this book. There are tons of characters and the point of view changes at the drop of a hat. This is not a book to be read casually. I read every night before I go to bed but this book requires both concentration and dedication, do not try to read this after you’ve had a few drinks, you’ll probably get lost and crash somewhere in the desert. (If you’re lucky you’ll get to talk to a cross-dressing spy.)

There are points where Wallace gets a little Ayn Rand-ish. He goes off on long tangents (usually about tennis) that don’t hold a lot of substance for the story, but I think that if you focus on it, it’s easy enough to comprehend and there were only a few times I found myself bored.

Despite all of my dread warnings, I really did enjoy this book. It delves into the meaning of entertainment, addiction, and possibly where the two intersect. This is a fantastic book, but it’s not for everyone. Most of the story takes place between an elite private tennis academy and a halfway house that share the same name in ‘near-future’ Boston. Part of what makes this book difficult are copious undefined acronyms – intentionally undefined acronyms, most of them are resolved by the latter third of the book, but trying to work out what exactly they mean both engages the reader and is kind of fun.

Published in 1998, Wallace managed to predict the rise of the internet in the life of a modern American, the War on Terror, and the continuation of vapid consumerism in our culture. It is incredibly relevant today.

 “In a 2008 retrospective by The New York Times, Infinite Jest was described as “a masterpiece that’s also a monster — nearly 1,100 pages of mind-blowing inventiveness and disarming sweetness. Its size and complexity make it forbidding and esoteric.”

This book made me fall in love with David Foster Wallace, but after reading it you have to decompress. I’m (slowly) making my way through Consider the Lobster which is a collection of his essays. If you’re unsure whether or not this book is for you try a few of his essays to see if you enjoy his writing style or not.

#84 – 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010)

April @ The Steadfast Reader


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