Two Hundred Pages Into Infinite Jest

Artfully constructed sentences soon become unremarkable in Infinite Jest; the use of language is exquisite. I find myself rereading paragraphs with wonder. After twice reading an eight-page footnote, ‘James O. Incandenza: A Filmography’, the footnotes began to seem a rewarding construction, and not annoying. Thirty pages in, I hit a chapter written entirely in vernacular, “Wardine say her momma aint treat her right”. Normally a block, I survived a device I always find condescending.

David Foster Wallace writes characters that rise up from the pages. The chapter where we meet marijuana addict Erdedy awaiting a woman who is due to bring him some ‘unusually good marijuana’ is an outstanding study of addiction, hilarious and disturbing.

Two hundred pages in though and I am seeking distraction, began reading Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget. Perhaps I haven’t read enough to care yet, but I am not feeling forward propulsion. Have you read Infinite Jest? Is it sufficiently rewarding, not just a well-written and clever book? Any cheer-leaders out there?

8 thoughts on “Two Hundred Pages Into Infinite Jest

  1. 200 pages into Infinite Jest was, I seem to remember, the point at which I gave up? – Isn’t there an incredibly boring passage about Maine separatists, or something?

    • I’m past that bit, and into a chapter about a late night DJ, Madame Psychosis. I am sure the narrative will develop to the point that I understand the point of Madame Psychosis, but I am not certain that I care. I am not interested in the endurance aspect of finishing, and I suspect, if I don’t love the book after 200 pages, it may not happen.

  2. Keep going! Or, set it aside and try again next year. I did give up on IJ — I was hating it at page 80 (with the exception of the Erdedy pages, I thought it was boring and I was greatly frustrated). But I went back to it with the encouragement of the mass online read that happened a couple summers ago. You may want to check the forums of Infinite Summer (http://infinitesummer.org/) to supplement your reading — and you may find the enthusiasm there to be infectious.

    Madame Psychosis does become fairly central. Also, life at the halfway house. I did find forward propulsion eventually, and found the effort I put into this book immensely rewarding.

    The whole book can be taken to be about addiction, with varying drugs of choice (e.g., entertainment), and despite the devices it becomes intensely human and heart-wrenching. I don’t know when I started to love this book, but the sum is truly greater than its parts.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks, Isabella, I truly appreciate the encouragement and the reassurance that persistence is worth the effort. The Infinite Summer fora are good to read as well.

  3. Just take a break and go back. One cannot eat but so much of such a rich meal without a break. So glad you mentioned our addict friend. That is one of my favorite sections of the book. A stand alone piece really. Hilarious and telling and astoundingly well-crafted. The kind of thing that forces other writers to despair when they read it.

    • Thanks, Frances, I am resolved to jump back in after I’ve finished my current non-fiction distraction, and IJ will be the main book that accompanies me on holiday in a fortnight.

    • Oh, that’s unfair, now I have to pick it up, if only to get to the fight scene (fight scenes are the stuff of films, so rarely any good in prose).

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