Infinite Jest

I thought maybe an immense review would be appropriate, but ultimately decided against it. My review of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is as follows:

Infinite Jest is an atrocious waste of space.


Private: Infinite Jest

There’s one thing I’ll say for Dave Wallace: he knows his words. He throws them around like they’re literally a part of his body—like they’re merely an extension of his (arms? face? brain?). The man’s good with words. You have to give him that much credit.

Having said this, I hereby retract any other positive thing I’ve ever said, written, or thought about Dave Wallace. Who I will, barring another sea change in my opinions, not refer to as “David Foster Wallace” from here on out. Only Dave Wallace.

Never mind that, though. Back to the mammoth book of his, Infinite Jest. What did I think?

Well, 900 pages into the book, I felt as though I was getting into the rhythm of the thing; I thought to myself, yes there are parts I hate, but the really truly excellent parts more than compensate. (This is what I thought at the time, and not my current opinion.) It seemed to make sense, and I was able to convince myself I was enjoying the book. And I probably was. But by the time I was finished, the author had managed to fritter away any and all goodwill I might have had towards his tome; astonishingly, Wallace was able to turn what could have been an excellent read into a monument to gross incompetence, or something of the sort. Ten minutes after I finished the behemoth, I likely would have said that it wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, though certainly not the best. Fortunately, I’ve taken some time to mull it over in my head. This isn’t ten minutes after I’ve finished reading the thing, it’s multiple hours. So here’s my carefully planned-out statement:

Infinite Jest is an atrocious waste of space.

What, you want reasons?

Well, here they are. Some of them.

  1. Words don’t make a book. Period.

    Dave Wallace knows his words. At the very least he’s got a mean thesaurus-turnin’ finger, though I tend to think he probably knows most of the words he uses. OK?

    An elephant may be able to hit a baseball 190 miles an hour, but that doesn’t make him (or her) a good ball player. Dig?

    Okay, okay—bad metaphor. Let me put it this way: what Infinite Jest convinced me, more than anything else, is that Dave Wallace doesn’t possess half the virtuosity he thinks he does. Which is to say, yes, he’s good—decent, even—but not to the extent that he should be allowed to get away with what he does. (I’ll get around to what that is.)

    I still think that Wallace’s style works well for short stories and essays. (I haven’t gone back to re-read any of these yet, but I’m fairly confident in this.) But this style translates horribly into a novel-length book. Part of the problem probably has to do with the fact that this “style” involves interesting manipulations of words that are generally held together by whispy, freakishly tangent-bearing plots. Hopelessly lost in a foreign country, I still would not ask the man for directions. I just wouldn’t.

  2. The Ending.

    I don’t want to “give away” anything about the ending, despite the fact that it would probably be doing innumerable I.J. readers an enormous favor. Giving away the ending simply isn’t something you do in good taste. So I won’t. Suffice it to say, Dave Wallace is lazy, lazy, lazy. The ending is one of the things he “gets away with.”

  3. Speaking of laziness…

    I didn’t really think about it while reading the book, but there are plenty of signs of laziness. The endnotes, for instance. Some of the notes are informative, if not actually necessary; others are simply superfluous, unnecessary side-notes that should have been culled when Wallace realized he couldn’t neatly integrate them naturally into the story. And given the nonlinear, goof-off nature of the story, it’s almost inconceivable that these end-notes couldn’t have been grafted into the story. That they haven’t been is either testament to the author’s laziness, or his ego. Both, probably.

  4. Malice.

    This is my own interpretation, and I have no idea what anybody else things. But I think Dave Wallace harbors incredible malice, both towards his readers and his characters. Malice or total disregard.

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