Posted by: dougery | February 14, 2011

A Valentine for: Infinite Jest

Today I am giving one of those little Transformers themed Valentine’s Day cards (or Barbie or Smurfs, etc) they used to sell in Hallmark stores in packs of like 32 so that every one of your classmates wouldn’t feel left out even though you not-so-secretly picked out your favorite of the 8 different designs for the people you really liked and giving it to the novel I recently finished, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Appropriately, here are 8 reasons why I ❤ DFW’s singular masterpiece.

08. Because Infinite Jest is a Boston novel and while that city might not be my favorite, I do love me some Beantown. Reading the novel makes you feel like you know the city as a friend. Like the way the Wire makes you love Baltimore despite itself. Perhaps this is a false impression, maybe Boston isn’t anything like the city Wallace has rendered. But I hope not.

07. Because of all 388 endnotes. Yeah, endnotes. DFW loves to stutterstep right in the middle of his narrative flow and send you racing back to last few pages to find an odd anecdote, a bit of drug trivia, or…

06. The entire annotated filmography of James O. Incandenza (aka “Himself”) is included as an extra, a ‘non-essential’ piece of the story but my oh my is it a tour de force. With titles like “(At Least) Three Cheers For Cause and Effect,” “The Night Wears a Sombrero,” “Baby Pictures of Famous Dictators,” and “Good Looking Men in Small Clever Rooms That Utilize Every Centimeter of Available Space With Mind-Boggling Efficiency.” The mind smiles when one actually ponders what a film with a title like these would be like.

05. The unreliable accounts of various plot points. Infinite Jest is a story full of stories told by any number of addicts, criminals, academics, terrorists and overworked teens. Add it all up and you are going to have some conflicting narration. Is the ‘figurant’ that shows up toward the end of novel real? What about Madame Psychosis, what does her veil really hide? And what is actually happening to Hal when we are last with him?

04. I’m of the opinion that there is no such thing as a ’round’ character in fiction. There are only a great many shades of ‘flat.’ Some are super slim, and work as stereotypes, sometimes to brilliant effect in pulp stories, thrillers and epic fantasy. Others are a bit more complicated but in essence, still flat. DFW renders a whole field of such people, who feel wonderfully real, in part because they are nowhere near ’round.’ Just as we compartmentalize actual people we meet in Real Life into a flat slot in our head where they somehow make sense in a world which is complex enough as it is, the folks of Infinite Jest behave as close to Real Life people as fictionally possible. I know that sounds like a white hot mess of contradiction, but it’s as close to coming to terms with these characters as I can get.

03. Eschaton. The game within a game played by Enfield Tennis Academy 12-14 year-olds. It’s essentially an Armageddon Nuclear Holocaust political thriller played on tennis courts with tennis balls as megaton bombs, and various students representing Syria, China, etc. It is indescribably funny, dark and entertaining to see pre-teens gaining a better grasp of global politics than most world leaders and following that up with one giant debacle.

02. Some details in the novel get repeated a great many times (as they are rather intricate) and as such you get used to things like there being an entire year of human civilization being sponsored by the Depend Adult Undergarment. An entire 365 days worth of events which will be recorded in human history as having occurred not in 2013, or 2020 but the year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. DFW’s whole ‘Subsidized Time’ implementation is funny and clever enough without the actual sponsors being diapers for incontinent old people.

01. Because of DFW’s prose. Yeah, kind of a duh. But the man’s style is so unique, that any comparison to author ‘x’ has to been made with a caveat. It’s weird like Pynchon only not as paralyzingly precise (DFW will occasionally have sentences with the same word back to back ‘like like’ ‘has has’ ‘always always’, etc, a tic that when you find them in most fiction drive you crazy for the ‘why didn’t they just phrase it differently?’ but when used often enough you realize this is just how people think and talk. There are oceans of hundred dollar vocabulary words and nifty turns of phrase which you can totally get by without understanding but which pay dividends for those who take the time to parse them out.

In the end Infinite Jest gets my Valentine because it is like most things I love: compelling, infuriating, too smart for it’s own good, embarrassingly earnest, and entirely it’s own creature. Something that doesn’t pull punches and made me work to better myself. Something I couldn’t wait to go back to and have dearly missed the moment it was no longer in my life.



  1. Beautiful. I especially loved “I’m of the opinion that there is no such thing as a ’round’ character in fiction. There are only a great many shades of ‘flat.’” Happy Valentine’s Day, indeed.

  2. Done. Placed on my library list…

  3. I am sooo buying this today.

  4. I want to wear that shirt under an unzipped zip-up Hogwarts hoodie.

  5. @Babs and KAO, I recommend it to everyone although I advise you to read a few pages before taking it out/purchasing so that you know the terrain. It’s kind of an instant yes / no.

    @Sensei And then you would cause all the little children’s heads to explode.

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