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Title: Infinite Jest
Author: David Foster Wallace
Written in: 1996
I've gotta admit, this novel scares me. It's not just the length, we've read longer novels before (hello Dream of the Red Chamber). It's not the depth, we don't mind diving deep. And it's not the "unconventional narrative structure", we've read experimental pieces (I'm looking at you, James Joyce). It is all of these put together, plus the categorisation as an "encyclopaedic novel" (what does that even mean?) that has always seemed a bit overwhelming.
But here we are...
Yes, we will read this book and discuss it for our January meet-up. There are reviews a plenty about how glorious or gregarious it is, so I'll just leave this one here for your consideration when deciding if you should take on this challenge.
With its baroque subplots, zany political satire, morbid, cerebral humor and astonishing range of cultural references, Wallace's brilliant but somewhat bloated dirigible of a second novel (after The Broom in the System) will appeal to steadfast readers of Pynchon and Gaddis. But few others will have the stamina for it. Set in an absurd yet uncanny near-future, with a cast of hundreds and close to 400 footnotes, Wallace's story weaves between two surprisingly similar locales: Ennet House, a halfway-house in the Boston Suburbs, and the adjacent Enfield Tennis Academy. It is the ``Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment'' (each calendar year is now subsidized by retail advertising); the U.S. and Canada have been subsumed by the Organization of North American Nations, unleashing a torrent of anti-O.N.A.N.ist terrorism by Quebecois separatists; drug problems are widespread; the Northeastern continent is a giant toxic waste dump; and CD-like ``entertainment cartridges'' are the prevalent leisure activity. The novel hinges on the dysfunctional family of E.T.A.'s founder, optical-scientist-turned-cult-filmmaker Dr. James Incandenza (aka Himself), who took his life shortly after producing a mysterious film called Infinite Jest, which is supposedly so addictively entertaining as to bring about a total neural meltdown in its viewer. As Himself's estranged sons--professional football punter Orin, introverted tennis star Hal and deformed naif Mario--come to terms with his suicide and legacy, they and the residents of Ennet House become enmeshed in the machinations of the wheelchair-bound leader of a Quebecois separatist faction, who hopes to disseminate cartridges of Infinite Jest and thus shred the social fabric of O.N.A.N. With its hilarious riffs on themes like addiction, 12-step programs, technology and waste management (in all its scatological implications), this tome is highly engrossing--in small doses. Yet the nebulous, resolutionless ending serves to underscore Wallace's underlying failure to find a suitable novelistic shape for his ingenious and often outrageously funny material.
New to the Hungry Hundred Book Club? Here's what you need to know:
- Read the book (If you don't manage to finish it by the meetup date, don't worry. As long as you're not going to be too disappointed by spoilers, you're still welcome to join.)
- Come to the meeting, usually (but not always!) on the last Sunday of every month. Meetings may be in Zoom or in person, depending on restrictions. If in person...
- ...Be prepared to order food/drink at the venue to show our appreciation for letting us use their space. This is a requirement. A lot of time and effort has been put into finding a place that will accommodate our group without an outrageous minimum charge or rental fee, and you'll never be asked to contribute to organiser fees, so please show your respect and support for the restaurant that's letting us use their space.
- Discuss! It's a casual conversation, so don't be afraid to ask questions and let us know what you think.