"Infinite Jest: Reviews, Articles,
March 15, 1996
READ IT AND WEEP
PLOWING THROUGH 'INFINITE JEST'
Reviewed by Lisa Schwarzbaum
It sits there like a dare, like a reproach, like a doorstop. It is 1,079
pages long. It's a terrific book, I'm sure -- all the other reviewers tell
me so. But right now INFINITE JEST (Little, Brown, $29.95), the defiantly
dense new novel by the intriguing young writer David Foster Wallace, sits
on my desk like an infinite burden. I cannot lift the thing to crack its
wonders, and I'm beginning to despair.
Carrying the 3-pound, 2.7-ounce book to read while commuting is out of the
question; I might as well heft dumbbells in my backpack. Propping it on
my knees to read in bed or in the bathtub is tricky: Too much concentration
and left-hand grip strength is needed to prevent the tome from toppling
over while turning the pages. It is occasionally possible to read 20 or
30 pages at a clip while sitting at home in a special chair, but then I
look up, realize there are 900 or 600 or even 400 pages to go, and fall
into profound dyspepsia, longing for an unedited Joan Collins manuscript.
Skimming isn't possible. Reading the last page first reveals nothing.
Reviewers far more disciplined than I can tell you what Infinite Jest is
about. They'll assure you it's a masterpiece. They'll suggest that it's
nothing less than a vision of the end of the American millennium, that its
language echoes the cultish densities of Thomas Pynchon's work with lots
of wise-kid associations and digressions sprinkled in, and that its subject
matter ranges from drugs, tennis, and Alcoholics Anonymous to a near-future
time when a certain territory comprising Canada and the U.S. has become
the Organization of North American Nations (or O.N.A.N., tah-dah!), and
when even the calendar year has been auctioned off for corporate sponsorship,
resulting in knee-slapping entry dates such as the Year of the Depend Adult
Undergarment. These reviewers say, "Stick with it, it's worth the work."
These reviewers also claim to have read A Brief History of Time, Foucault's
Pendulum, A Suitable Boy, and It Takes a Village. With one crabbed hand
gripping the cover like a claw and the other raised like a limp white flag,
I salute them.
Transmitted: 3/15/96 8:18 PM (bk2318)