This Jest Seems Infinite

Novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace’s most famous work is Infinite Jest (1996). It was a best-seller and widely praised and is more than 1,000 pages long. It has 100 pages of footnotes.

hatI have a few friends who rate it as one of their favorites and more people I know who were unable to finish reading it. I am in the latter category. I’m not alone. The fact that you can buy hats and t-shirts stating that you’re in that group seems to be evidence of that.

The sad part is that I got the audiobook and I still haven’t made it all the way through. I’m about halfway, but considering that I bought the Audible version four years ago makes it even sadder.

I can’t say I have enjoyed listening to it so far. So what compels me to keep going?  I’m not sure. I wrote earlier about the same situation with a John Irving novel and Irving is an author I very much enjoy reading.

The novel’s structure is unconventional and the endnotes (all 388, including some that have their own footnotes). The novel’s primary locations are the Enfield Tennis Academy (E.T.A.) and the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House which are near each other in suburban Boston, Massachusetts.

I am hard-pressed to summarize a plot. Multiple narratives are somewhat connected via a film, Infinite Jest, also known as “the Entertainment.”

I suppose I keep picking up on the novel because some friends like it so much and the reviews (it made TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005). I will finish it eventually. Maybe this summer on my walks. I don’t know that I will have anything new to report about it.

The novel’s title is from Hamlet in that famous scene when Hamlet holds the skull of the court jester, Yorick, and says, “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!”

David Foster Wallace battled devastating depression his whole life and committed suicide in 2008. His unfinished novel, The Pale King, was published in 2011. I don’t think I’ll start that one.

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Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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