I should probably like Infinite Jest. But it’s just so gratuitous.
Here at page 108, I could put the book down. Entertainment Weekly promises me that “most people who own a copy of Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace’s 1,079-page magnum opus, haven’t finished it.”
Maybe I should put it down. That’s the point of the novel, right? To look away before I slip into a stupor? Even at page 108, I’m slipping. It’s like I’m penned to this side of the fourth wall, mirroring the always speculative character Hal Incandenza. This can’t be good. To avoid being the butt of the jest, I suspect I should live in my own present rather than drifting through Wallace’s characters’ reflections on theirs.
But that’s not why I’m going to give up. I’m going to stop reading this book because I just don’t want to wade through so many words. The first 108 pages deliver painstakingly detailed set up. And lots of intricately detailed footnotes about tangental individuals and events that do not exist. I appreciate the idea, but Borges similarly creates a world and in effect a novel of ideas in his magnificent, and only 19-paged, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.”
Maybe it’s not the word count as much as the content. Despite its almost cult following amongst bibliophiles, A Confederacy Of Dunces didn’t resonate with me either. I might just be too far removed from a popularly constructed “masculine” interest to connect with Toole’s and Wallace’s writing (at New Republic, Adam Kirsch confirms my suspicion that “like Hemingway, [Wallace] was deeply concerned with traditional manliness”). I could revisit The Sun Also Rises to test my theory. But as Hemingway’s thin volume is only two hundred pages, the comparison might not be sound.
Harold Bloom aside, Wallace’s tome is well-regarded. Mental Floss’s Nick Greene claims “it’s not a stretch (or very original) to call Infinite Jest the defining work of the 1990s.” So I doubt I’ll hurt any feelings by calling it quits. But I hope I’ve invoke yours, on your recent reads.
What should I read next?