Sunday, May 07, 2017

David Foster Wallace - Part 2

As promised, I'm back with the second of three posts on Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace's gargantuan novel of -- among other things -- addiction, Quebec separatism, and youth tennis. (Here's my first post.) 

Today, I wanted to focus on the complexity of the book, and I wanted to take issue with a review by Greg Burkman, who described Infinite Jest as "surprisingly readable."  

Let me be clear: there's nothing about Foster Wallace's novel that's readable. In fact, I'd argue that the book is overwhelmingly difficult, sometimes deliberately so. There are sentences that teem with life, that brim with originality, but to suggest that the book -- this 1,000 page tome of endless observation -- is readable misses the mark. 

That, I think, raises two questions: First, is Jest worth the read? And second, could Foster Wallace have made the novel more accessible, and in so doing, made it more successful?

For me, as I round page 600, the answer to both questions is maybe. Reading Infinite Jest can be a chore, but there's no doubt it represents something new, something absolutely new. In an odd way, the book reminds me of Moby Dick, which traded tradition for novelty. Whether that book -- like Jest -- is successful, though, is a different story. 

Were Jest more accessible, would it be more profound? As I say, I'm willing to answer the question with a maybe, but that's generous. There are parts of Jest which veer so far off course that the narrative grinds to a halt. But then, when Foster Wallace returns to more familiar stories -- involving Boston rehab, or youth tennis -- he's spectacular, and his powers are unrivaled. 

It's that balance, though, which leaves me frustrated. With 300 pages to go, I'll be eager to see how Foster Wallace pulls it all together. That is, if he pulls it together at all. Part of me assumes the jest carries on forever, and that this is a novel that could have filled another 1,000 pages still. 

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