I don’t even know where to start. Or finish. In fact while reading this I twice had to turn away and read entire other books - William Gibson’s Zero History and Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing. Because to read IJ through from cover to cover in a single sitting was simply too much.
It’s impossible to really describe, other than to say it’s about addiction. And being human. And obsession - particularly the obsession of the man who wrote it. You can’t read it without desperately wondering about DFW’s mind, mental state, brilliance, breakdown, death. As David Edder’s writes in the introduction:
At no time while reading Infinite Jest are you unaware that this is a work of complete obsession, of a stretching of a young writer to the point of, we assume, near madness.
It’s got 100 pages of crazy footnotes, minute breakdowns of life in a tennis academy, political and artistic intrigue combined with high farce, and, most convincingly, detailed and depressing spirals into the world of the hard core drug and alcohol addict.
Those long sections about AA/NA are crushingly compelling, and an insight into a terrible world most of us know nothing about. Where getting through a single day, a single hour, is a victory. There’s a fantastic passage toward the end where a character realises that if he just takes each second, if he can just bear one second at a time, he can get through. But if he lets his mind project longer than that, he’s gone. It’s incredibly moving and heartfelt.
It’s not an easy read, it’s exhausting, but also exhilarating and rewarding. It almost demands post-reading meta research - and there’s plenty out there to support further investigation, from critical summaries to infographics to posters. People love it, and hate it, often at the same time.
It’s also a long book, and I was glad to finish, but the more I read the more enthralled and awed I became. It took around 300 pages before I started to click into the rhythm and pacing (and where I had to take the first break), which reminded me of Shakespeare: until you settle into the language and meter it’s a struggle to stay afloat. But once you do find that zone it’s wonderful. The closest comparison in terms of novels is probably Ulysses, which is equally tough to break into but equally rich once you do. Ulysses too drives the reader to further research, and leaves you incredulous at the skill of the author,
DFW was already known as a very smart and challenging and funny and preternaturally gifted writer when Infinite Jest was released in 1996, and thereafter his reputation included all the adjectives mentioned just now, and also this one: Holy shit.
Bang on. Holy shit.