Book Review – Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Image of a hand holding Infinite Jest paperback edition

My Rating : 5/5

Infinite is the right word for this book. It is an absolutely immense book. Not just the sheer volume of it – the print version goes above eleven hundred pages, but even in the different number of themes it touches. It keeps jumping between genres with changes in the narrators, who are all quite wildly different but somehow brought together through a most inconceivable plot, if it can be called so. Apparently the word for it is an ‘encyclopedic novel’, considering the level of detail it gets into describing this postmodern world conjured up by the author – where we no longer have numbers for years but rather something called ‘subsidized time’ – with most of the action taking place in the YDAU (Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment).

It has a rather depressive beginning, and this general sense of a mental abyss keeps going on for quite a while making one wonder if there is any kind of jest in it as the title indicates. Time slows down as someone high on weed describes a bug on a wall, which goes on for pages. Then we have a father who failed at the two loves of his life – tennis and acting, trying to distill the essence of both and somehow managing to bring them together in a monologue to his son where individual sentences go on for pages. And let me not get started about the point where the narration switches to the absolute bottom dregs of the Bostonian society, for whom life is just about getting from one score to another and the will to do any heinous act to get there.

However, the subtle hints at humor emerge as the book grows into you. You have an ‘Experiealist’ (as opposed to Imperialist – as in forcibly giving away their territory to another nation) power, ie USA, at the helm of a grouping of North American countries – an entity who’s name abbreviates to a term which may be best described as someone enjoying themselves. And an unlikely and ‘specially abled’ Quebecois separatist group violently opposed to any such union. The humor reaches its zenith in a rather unique annual game held at the ETA (Enfield Tennis Academy – central to the story and also where the protagonist Hal Incandenza is a promising talent), where mostly pre-pubescent boys and girls engage in a sort of world ending event, filled with jargon and events which will make any geopolitics nerd (almost everyone if one goes by the level of expertise one sees on Twitter) laugh themselves silly. Not to forget about the current US American President, a mad as a hatter ex crooner who has an OCD about germs and infections – everyone getting close to him had to go through a UV machine and put on gloves, masks and put on foot covers (no shoes allowed), somehow seeming quite prescient about the current COVID pandemic.

The author David Foster Wallace was quite a polymath and it shows with the level of detail he goes into quite varied subjects. He was also blessed with an immense vocabulary (can’t recall any book where I had to hit the dictionary so often). I like reading books which expand my mental horizons and this book definitely fits the bill. All one needs is the patience to get through the epic scale of it.

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