Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace
Ok, first thing's first, the ending sucks. It’s flat out horrible. Not so much because of the content of the ending but because it just sort of stops (though to his credit at least this book doesn't stop in mid sentence like Broom of the System does) you spend over a month reading an amazing, complicated, and intelligent book and it ends with almost negative resolution. My bigger problem wasn't just that the ending was terrible, it was that I knew it was going to be bad. This is the third of Mr. Wallace's books that I have read (two were short stories (though some of those short stories were upwards of 80 or 90 pages) and the third was the afore mentioned novel) so I was painfully aware at his complete lack of endings. So that kind of tainted my experience of the novel but up until the final stretch it doesn’t become a problem its only when you see the pages get closer to the end and get less and less resolution that you start to worry about how the end will turn out, and when you finally get there you are in no way happy by what greets you.
For a book that is half as long as the bible (at least the penguin classic version that I shelved at work the other day) you would expect something more. And you aren’t disappointed in any other part of the book but the ending. There are at least 50 characters in this novel, and entirely original and absurdly intricate alternate history/future, several different locations, and a plot that if you tried to visually represent would look like a Ven diagram on speed and E (which I’m suppressed wasn't a character in the book).
As far as why this book is so amazing.
First there is the incredibly convoluted plot that I can't imagine one person could keep track of let alone actually construct into a cohesive novel. As I’m sure you can read anywhere this book is sold or reviewed it centers on the intermingled lives of the residents of a drug halfway house and the nearby tennis academy. The two main characters (though there are often large stretches where neither of them appear) would be Don G. a former resident and current safer of the halfway house and Hal the son of the recently deceased founder of the tennis academy. As the main focus of this novel is addiction we follow these two lives as they deal with both recovering from and starting to worry about substances and their own personal relationships to them. All while a mysterious organization of wheelchair bound Canadians and US government agents attempt to track down and use a lethally entertaining movie, which shares the title of the novel.
One of my favorite things about this novel is that while these three rather large main plots are developing we get to learn an immense amount about the multitude of supporting characters some of them even becoming their own protagonists of mini-novels within the main story's architecture. Really the biggest strength of this big book is it's ability to take on new stories and give them full and detailed attention while never feeling like you've started a different book. Also each one of these characters has their own voices and interesting history's and complicated issues with addiction and psychological needs. Along with these personal histories there is detailed and amusingly convoluted imagined history of the US and Canadian relations and the implosion of the advertising industry that says more about current political /economic trends then some things that were written yesterday.
There is also some brilliant use of language in this book. Sentences that go on for days that have the comedic timing of a master and could be hung in the louvre. He completely inverts cliché’s and seems to invent not just a complete world with it's own history and citizens but their own language. I’m worried I’m going to start using expressions like Howling Fantods and De-Mapping in conversation and people are going to look at me like I’ve taken too much DMZ. He uses these words which such art that for a while I thought that they were real slang that I had just never heard of before (I’m still not entirely convinced there not). At the same time he can effortlessly defend and explain his characters word choices and particular vocabulary quirks (including a character who is the founder of a Militant Grammarian organization) the only reason I could think of that I shouldn’t have read this book is that I don’t think I have an even distant-outside-shot in the dark-like chance at ever writing like this. But hopefully my endings won’t suck so much.
So other then my issues with the ending there are only a few problems I have with this book. One, I should not have lugged it around the UK with me, originally a good idea. Do some vacation reading, finish reading a book I’ve been wanting to read, Etc. unfortunately it is a difficult book to both carry and read in the haphazard way one must read on a vacation. So that really has very little to do with the book and more to do with my poor planning vis-a-vi vacation and literature. And my second problem which might actually out weigh my less then satisfied with the ending problem is the complete and utter disregard the man has for paragraphs. There would be paragraphs that would just go on and on for pages like a wall of words never ceasing. Part of why it was so difficult to read casually (though there were a multitude of factors on that one) but mostly just really intimidating and exhausting. The story would plow ahead never allowing you to catch your emotional or mental breath. Spiraling around through the different characters and locations and moods and paralyzingly brilliant sentences without a pause to reflect on them for pages at a time. He uses every centimeter of page space and fills it with a waterfall of some of the most brilliant prose I have ever read.
In short if you have a spare two months with nothing to do read this book. But bring some aspirin and a dictionary, and get ready for a sucky ending.