Book review of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

What I’d Pick If I Had To Choose One Book To Read On Infinite Loop

Upon reading the last page of this book, I felt many emotions. There was relief and even a sense of accomplishment that I had finally finished such a dauntingly long book (over a thousand pages). There was a little confusion and disappointment, for after all that brilliant text, the plot, such that it was, didn’t really Resolve in the ordinary way. But my main feeling was one of respect for the author. This novel really was an extraordinary piece of art.

It hit pretty much all emotions, humor, pathos, disgust, inspiration, etc. while canvasing an incredibly broad spectrum of characters, wealthy, poor, intelligent, stupid, kind, cruel, everything. The author has (had) a remarkable ability in two areas. First, his ability to put words together is as good as I’ve ever seen. This sounds like an obvious skill for a professional writer, but Wallace’s turn of phrase is astonishing in its impact. The second skill that Wallace possesses is a power of observation that would make Sherlock Holmes seem sedated. These two things combined really make for a powerful reading experience.

I am, however, a bit puzzled by the configuration of this novel. It seems a bit disjointed. Occasionally some of the threads of the narratives of the disparate characters come together in subtle in-joke kind of ways, but that combined with the lack of a classic plot resolution made me realize that one could actually begin rereading the book immediately after finishing it and pretty much find that no less enjoyable (perhaps the "Infinite" of the title.) I actually did reread the first 50 or so pages because way back in the dimly remembered early pages, I remembered stories of characters I had only properly learned about many hundreds of pages later and I wanted to revisit them. But the book is so long that you can’t possibly remember what happened 1000 pages back. If you put this on an endless loop on a electronic reading device, you’d hardly miss the beginning and ending.

Speaking of an electronic reading device, I must say that any collection of 1088 sides of paper is going to be quite irritating to lug around and, ridiculously, it was something of a physical feat to just hold it open while reading it for as long as it took. Exacerbating this annoyance were the hundreds of end notes which required constant shuffling of the huge tome. Regrettably, they were usually either too essential or interesting or both to be skipped.

There were lots of plot elements, but nothing really cohesive and some were downright ridiculous (the sinister ninja-like terrorist organization that is used for various bizarre plot purposes is composed predominantly of people in wheelchairs). Although there was no grand normal old-fashioned plot, there was a lot of descriptive activity taking place. If you’re not squeamish about drug use, this book’s incredible attention to the realistic details of unfortunate recreational pharmacology might change that. Another minor topic is tennis. Tennis isn’t offensive to anyone (like golf) and those who aren’t interested can simply overlook it. For me, who has always liked tennis, the incredibly rich descriptive discourses on the life of serious tennis people were rather inspiring and I’ve since taken up the sport.

Overall, a magnificent and amazing work. If you think you might be interested in a fantastic book about modern American culture and are prepared for a bit of a long read, I highly recommend Infinite Jest.