Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

When I established this blog, I intended to semi-regularly review novels. Instead, I’ve spent the last six months reading through the same novel – David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a thousand-page epic set in the near future and concerning a film so entertaining that it drives anyone who views it to permanent, drooling catharsis. The writing is dense but superb, hyper-detailed and featuring hundreds of footnotes (some of which are essentially short stories themselves). Wallace writes with authoritative talent on topics as broad as tennis, mathematics and – tragically, given his suicide years later – clinical depression. His writing is insightful; even prophetic.

The novel begins with a large number of disparate, seemingly unconnected narrative threads that eventually commingle and intertwine but, interestingly, never coalesce into the coherent storyline that the introduction seems to promise. It’s perhaps surprising (and, for me, slightly disappointing) that such a long novel doesn’t have a traditional narrative or clear conclusion; nonetheless the novel is a rich execution of the twin themes of consumerism and addiction (and how the two interact).

Infinite Jest is undeniably a rewarding read. It’s also a lot of work, and, honestly, the reward isn’t necessarily worth the commitment such a demanding novel requires.

11 thoughts on “Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

  1. I recently bought this novel after watching Josh Radnor’s most recent film ‘Liberal Arts’, in which there is talk about this book (though it is never specifically mentioned by title, or even author). I find the premise very interesting but I have to admit I do get put off by extremely long novels and am finding myself putting off reading this one… Hopefully I get through it sometime 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment – I’m kind of a masochist when it comes to really long novels – I did read “War and Peace” essentially because it has a reputation for being very long, and I read this knowing how “difficult” it was to read. I don’t regret it but I wouldn’t tell anyone else to rush out there and pick it up right away – hopefully you enjoy it!

      • (Also – is “Liberal Arts” worth checking out? I didn’t even know that Josh Radnor had any films out, to be honest!)

    • I actually just picked up “Pale King” a couple days ago! Will get to it soon, might stick with some shorter books for now though (reading Vonnegut’s “Timequake” at the moment). Thanks for the comment!

    • Definitely a difficult read! His essays are both more entertaining and substantially easier to read; I’ve been keeping an eye out for a book that collects his essays but no luck so far..

      • He’s got a really awesome story in one of these McSweeneys I have. Let me see if I can reference it for you.

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