Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace ---------------------- 5 Stars

I have never read a book quite like David Foster Wallace's (DFW) Infinite Jest. It is without a doubt the most challenging, confusing, mind expanding, fascinating, and longest book I have ever read.  It is also unparalleled in modern fiction, and, without a doubt, earns a full 5 stars.

Where to even begin?  How do I even try to do justice to this book or attempt to explain it?  For those that have read it, I am sure you can sympathize and understand.  For those that have yet to take the plunge, I'll do my best to summarize as many aspects around, and about this book as I can.

Let's start with the first and most obvious thing when you first see this book or download it: it's size.  I believe it's over 1,000 paper pages (I read the Kindle version) which includes a couple hundred pages of footnotes.  First important thing to know, DFW loved footnotes and there is a trove of interesting, though sometimes useless, information in the footnotes.  Anyway, the book is very, very long.  I started in June and, though I read a couple other short books during this time, it still took me around 6 months to finish (this includes some long summer months were I was really focused on it). 

Now, to make even more difficult, the book is very, very challenging to. Really, in two areas.  First, the vocabulary and way DFW writes is pretty overwhelming.  It literally felt like at least once a page I'd have to look up a word (thanks goodness for the built in Kindle dictionary).  Additionally, DFW has very long, and often complex sentences that sometimes could go on for an entire page.  Second, and perhaps more challenging and annoying (though ultimately more worthwhile?), the book is not a linear narrative.  In fact, it jumps all over the place.  Compound this by the large number of different characters and the seeming disconnectedness with the multiple plot lines, and one can get easily overwhelmed (see: me).

SO, how is it possible that, with all the weaknesses noted above, can this book earn a coveted 5 star rating?  Well, the answer is the book is simply incredible.  There is nothing else quite like it.  Why? Let's start with all that was written above.  All of that difficulty, the length, the vocabulary, the complexity of language and characters and structure, makes the reader really earn it.  You can't just pick this up and half pay attention with the game on; no, you have to make a concerted effort to focus and really understand what's going on. But when you do, you start to realize just how great DFW is as a writer.  There were oftentimes reading the book for long periods of time, stopping, going back through and realizing that I just read 20 pages, had no idea what happened but loved the text I had just read. 

What else? The characters - their crazy.  Their interesting, and weird, and different, and lovable, and deeply flawed -- really they are quite human.   Plus there are so many of them.  Even as the book is coming to a close, and the reader is starting to get annoyed about a perceived lack of resolution, DFW is still introducing new characters and fascinating biographies about them.

Finally, what about the plot?  Many people say that this is the hardest thing to explain about the book.  Their right.  This book is about A LOT and covers A LOT yet, at the same time, it sometimes feels like nothing happened.  In it, the world and government is different than today, the calendar has changed and that helps confuse things further.  There are a few main characters and groups - there is a tennis facility with teenage prodigies with a few main characters, there is a group of military folks looking for something, there is a drug rehab house with a man and woman who end up being major characters.  Sounds pretty lame, right?  Well, to make it even more potentially confusing, much of the book is about addiction (drug, sex, media/entertainment) and this plays out in the very seemingly disconnected, but really interrelated, lives of many of these people. 

The plot piece, to me, was the most confusing part of the book when finished.  Thank goodness for the Internet.  After finishing the book yesterday, I spent a large part of a day googling and trying to understand the various plot elements.  Needless to say, I missed a lot but I also learned just how much depth this book truly has.  I certainly felt very frustrated and annoyed when I finished the book but now realize just how incredible this book truly is; what an absolute genius DFW was.   In many ways, the book reminds of the TV show Lost (except, this ending is better).  Often, it's confusing and the perception is that much of it does not make sense, but after digging and spending more time reflecting, one realizes just how interesting it can be.

This is one of the longer reviews I have ever written, and I really feel like I could go on all day writing about Infinite Jest.  If you know nothing about the book or David Foster Wallace, you owe it to yourself to at least learn a bit more about either (or both).  DFW committed suicide about 7-8 years ago after battling with depression.  Many believe, and I am one of them, that he is the greatest author of his generation.  While the book has often been classified as "post-modern", and certainly does not follow a "typical" model of fiction, it is without a doubt an amazing piece of literature.

I highly recommend, at some point in your life, you consider reading the book.  Know that it will take a long time, and know that you will have to labor through it, and know that you may not understand/like large parts of it, and know that you may need the help of others (i.e. the Internet) to help you.  But, also know that you will be a better person for reading it and, hopefully, you will be as entertained and pleased as I am now after finishing. 

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