Skip over navigation
(home) about books movies music opinions studio services
browse by author/editor: browse by genre/theme:
 a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i   j   k   l   m   n   o   p   q   r   s   t   u   v   w   x   y   z 

the pathetic caverns - books by author - David Foster Wallace

eclectic reviews and opinions

David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest is huge, severely non-linear, with lots of characters, several narrators, and a dizzying number of plot-threads. It has a section of "footnotes and errata," many of which are absolutely essential to the primary text. It's often funny as hell, in a rather dry, cerebral way, and often creepily and eerily convincing. (The notion of "Subsidized Time," for example, in which the calendar is abandoned in favor of advertising financed constructs like "Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar" and "Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland" is one that only barely strains my credibility.) You'll note that since chapters are frequently headed by year and date, that part of the puzzle aspect of this book involves figuring out what things happened in what order (and make no mistake, there are several puzzles to unravel -- in many ways, Infinite Jest is like a mystery novel -- with all, or most of, of the clues, but without the concluding chapter in which the detective sums everything up for the reader).

It's rare that I've expended as much time and effort on a book that I was reading strictly for pleasure; I found it necessary to take notes on a few things as I was going through it, and now that I'm done, and participating in an internet discussion group on the novel, I'm thinking about re-reading it, and anyway I am flipping through it a lot weilding a highlighter.

Mostly, I'm amazed that so many people found the time to read the thing and then write about it. I've noticed that the reviews generally fall into three camps:

  1. people who think the book has an "ending" and like it
  2. people who think the book does not have an "ending" but like it anyway
    (often describing the lack of "ending " as part of the point)
  3. people who think the book does not have an "ending" and don't like it
    (these people often cry "Pynchon-esque?? No way, no how!")
  4. (there is of course a logical fourth category of people who "got it" and still didn't "like it;" I can only assume they exist but don't write about the book very much)

I'm in the first camp (with a little help from aforesaid discussion group).
(In general, as archived reviews are reposted, I try to avoid mucking with them too much, but as of 2004, the pathetic caverns endorses position 2.)

I will note that Infinite Jest offers an unusual reversal of complexity of plot and theme: it's easy to arrive at the conclusion that the novel is "about" the relationship between addiction and our need to be "entertained;" it's harder -- even for an intelligent, careful reader -- to tell exactly what has happened to all of Wallace's large and eccentric cast of characters by the novel's chronological end.

In an interview with Wallace (in which he defended himself against accusations that the book's length was "self-indulgent" or indicated a lack of editing) he stated that he'd delivered about 1700 manuscript pages, of which about 500 were cut from the finished version of the book. It says a lot about how -- dare I say compulsively? -- readable Infinite Jest is that not only am I curious about how much the excised material contributes to the puzzle aspect of the novel (not much I'm guessing -- the lack of a tidy conclusion seems very deliberate) -- but that I'd also like to read another five hundred pages of it.

top of page

pathetic caverns home

comment (opens in new window)

unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

all contents © 1995-2004 d. mayo-wells except where otherwise noted.