Guest blogger (and son) Ernesto, who gave me this book to read, offers his take:
W/r/t my second complete reading of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest:
While I am baffled that I spent several months reading/lugging this
humongous book everywhere (again!), it was all worthwhile. Like with any
re-examination of something, I found that a lot was gained, more
details observed, and the deeply interwoven world of the book came into
The main questions I am left with are:
Why does JOI [James O. Incandenza, as a ghost] choose to visit Gately of all people?
Why does Orin [JOI's eldest son] decide to unleash the Entertainment?
The ambiguities of the novel's end are numerous, but like any text so
massive, many of the answers can be found within. The master copy of the
entertainment which JOI had interred inside his cranium is missing when
Hal [Incandenza], Joelle [Prettiest Girl of All Time aka PGOAT], Gately, and John Wayne unearth his remains. The imprisoned
Orin cuts a deal with the AFR, giving them the location of the master.
The shadow government of the ONAN is prepared to handle the onslaught of
the paralyzing entertainment with PSAs and mass electrical outages.
The first time I finished, I was flabbergasted by the lack of closure
even with these hints. However, a gimmick I discovered on the internet
offered a more comfortable resolution: Flip to the start and read
through the first section, ending on page 17. Doing so places the reader
at the latest chronological point in the story, the last year of
subsidized time. It also refreshes for us all of the poignant details of
Hal's opening inner monologue. And since one has already sunken weeks
of time into the book, clearly showing some obsession, it doesn't seem
like too much of a stretch to flip to the beginning and start over (ala the Entertainment or a Substance).
The use of style in the book is likewise infectious, giving the reader a
repertoire of slang from across the Bostonian class spectrum. The
colloquial writing makes the book even more digestible, at least once
you get over the hump of the first 200 pages. The main narrative is
colored with disturbing stories told both by individuals from and on
their way into AA and nearly indecipherable nuggets of AAVE or phonetic
Irish-English. These sections are so numerous and seemingly unconnected,
but not a single character or tangent stands alone.
The twisted version of America (ONAN) from a dimension where things are
just a shade worse is compelling as well. Not only is it futuristic in
its predictions -- 1996 was a long time ago, technologically speaking --
but the technology itself moves people to be radically anti-social (see
the section on videophones and the mask industry that comes about as a
result). This deeply sad America is caught up in spontaneously
disseminated entertainment (cough Netflix, cough cough Amazon Prime) and
advertising agencies literally own time itself. The amalgamated
TelePuter combines our society's favorite technological distractions
into one (as we see rapidly occurring with video-streaming technology).
The late Ray Bradbury often pointed out that science fiction's visions
of our future serve best as a warning. Infinite Jest should be
considered in the same way, something to admonish us and give us pause
as we creep deeper into self-absorption and indulgence.
One of the recurring points in DFW's writing, whether it's short
stories, speeches, or in IJ is an urging for human beings to be
compassionate; to strive to understand and love someone other than
oneself. JOI's stated purpose for having made the entertainment was to
get an emotional response out of Hal, to show beyond a doubt that he
loved his son despite his own emotional distance and crippling
alcoholism. In curbing his own addiction, Hal becomes (by all
appearances) a rabid and horrifying animal, which adds to the dark irony
of JOI's attempt to elicit emotions from his son.
It's easy to see that Wallace writes what he knows: depression (for
which he received electro-shock therapy), addiction/recovery programs,
and competitive junior tennis. Reading this 1079 page story for the
second time I can't help but applaud David Foster Wallace for creating a
world so simultaneously colorful and flawed and an opus so magnum.