On Infinite Jest and the impact it had on me


I haven’t really discussed literature much at all on here but I can’t help but talk about Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. For those who don’t know what it is, it is a 1,079 page novel which some of those pages including the 388 endnotes that you pretty much have to read to get the full experience of this novel. On top of that, it’s typically recommended to read the book with a guide online such as the Infinite Jest wikia which is what I personally used which includes page-by-page definitions and explains many of the pop culture references, historical references, etc. There isn’t really an easy way to explain what this novel is, it covers drug addiction (along with addiction to entertainment, alcohol, etc), tennis, child abuse, satirical takes on politics, and the list could go on forever. It isn’t your typical novel when it jumps between different sets of characters every few pages or so, it’s pretty much impossible to actually follow everything and you kinda have to let go and just enjoy reading it for what it is: a funny although sometimes quite serious novel that may change your life in quite a few ways or at least gain some new understanding about many things. And I realize that sounds cliché that some novel or some piece of art “changed someone’s life” but screw it, it’s pretty true.

The world of the novel itself is extremely unique in itself, the countries of North America have combined together into one power essentially in the near future with years that are labeled after mass corporations and there may or may not be a Quebec terrorist group who are called Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents aka The Wheelchair Assassins and yes, you are supposed to take that at face value, they are literally wheelchair assassins who are on the hunt for a piece of entertainment called “Infinite Jest” that if one watches, they die from it being such a pleasurable piece of entertainment, essentially it’s making fun of/making a serious point about American’s addiction to entertainment. “Infinite Jest” is very much a MacGuffin, it isn’t explained really nor does it need to be (just like many things in the book). The book mostly takes place though at the Enfield Tennis Academy (which includes the most fucked up family ever, “The Incandenzas”) and The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House. But I think I’ll stop with plot explanation and get to the point of what the book actually means to me and why you should totally read it (and hopefully the plot description stuff I just gave were absurd/surreal enough for you to want to read the book).

This book is extraordinarily special in the sense that I know I’ll never read anything like it ever again (until I read it again). It breaks every rule of what a “novel” is supposed to contain (whatever that means) and does what it wants in an intelligent, caring, and funny manner. David Foster Wallace was clearly an intelligent person, it comes off pretty obviously right from the start of the novel, and some people mistake this for some kind of pretentiousness or arrogance when he layers the novel in big, sophisticated words and extremely obscure allusions but they couldn’t be more wrong. Despite the fact that this book is 1,079 pages long not a word is wasted and I wouldn’t have said that while reading it whatsoever. There are many times while reading it that I wanted to quit. Many times where the novel seemed to be going nowhere. Many times where I’m just like, “what the fuck is even going on anymore?” Many times where I’m like “why did you reference that?” But by the end, you realize there is a purpose to all of it. Each word is used for a reason; there isn’t some reason that David Foster Wallace had to show off his intelligence. Simply you’ll have to trust me when I say that everything is in the novel for a reason, there isn’t bullshit fluff, each endnote is important, and even the sections that seem utterly pointless are there to establish tone or set-up plot points later (which may include setting up plot points that won’t happen for like 600-700 pages).

Now why exactly did the book have an impact on me? Well for one thing I feel like I’ve gained an incredibly new understanding on those who suffer through mental disorders and/or alcohol addiction and/or drug addiction. You can tell that David Foster Wallace was either well versed in his knowledge or had at least suffered from it in some form (well he did have depression which lead to his…suicide…that felt totally wrong to put in parentheses as a side note). The amount of sincerity and empathy and honesty comes right off the pages, a lot of the time you don’t feel like you are listening to a character say these words but rather David Foster Wallace himself and for some novels, that would come off as really awful but instead for Infinite Jest it makes the novel feel incredibly more personal and honest and makes the work as a whole much more impactful.

Tennis. I don’t really care for sports much at all but when David Foster Wallace manages to describe it with such care and use it as such a great comparison to life in general, you gain an appreciation for something you never thought you would. I think this shows the power of literature (or any art for that matter) is it can make you gain appreciation for things you never once thought you could ever have an appreciation for and in the case of Infinite Jest, it does more than most novels could with the care and the placement of words and the descriptions of these characters and their actions.

As a whole though, it’s the very satirical nature of the book that makes it really work. The book is littered in humor that’ll make you smirk more than laugh out loud but that’s okay, it’s usually informative and necessary to the book as a whole but it still manages to balance this with incredibly serious moments. The serious moments are incredibly powerful, informative, and sometimes fucking terrifying to read, reading about some of the shit these characters go through is sometimes tough to read especially when the book really gets into the more intense sections at The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, the stories some of these characters have in the novel are tough and disturbing but true and honest. I’ve never felt like I could understand the world of AA meetings or addiction recovery like I have though through this novel, I certainly have more empathy for people suffering through these addictions more than I ever have.

I could go on and on about this novel but I think you get the point, this book is meaningful and impactful and frankly, finishing the novel itself was a real achievement for myself. The amount of patience and time you have to put into make it worth the effort by the end despite that my first reaction of the ending being “what the fuck?” but it only really took a few minutes after that for it to all sink in and realize what I’ve actually read, as this book is not really about the ending or the finish but the journey itself but you really have to get to that ending to have the full impact. I can confidently say that the last line of the novel may be my favorite last line of a novel ever though despite that first reaction of “what the fuck,” as I realized how perfect it truly is a few minutes afterwards. It has now been only roughly three days since I’ve finished it and the book hasn’t left my mind whatsoever nor will it ever I’m sure, I’m sure that I’ll carry the characters of Hal Incandenza, Don Gately, James Incandenzea, Randy Lenz, Joelle Van Dyne, Remy Marathe, Steeply, etc, etc, for the rest of my life as a cast of characters this large has never been so fucked up, insightful, wonderful, absolutely insane, and incredible all at once. Read it. Put the effort in. You won’t regret it (but you may totally want to quit within the first 200 pages but please don’t as those pages hold way more weight by the end of the novel).


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