Dave Eggars writes in the foreword to Infinite Jest, “This is not a book to be read with a child on your knee.” I’m paraphrasing, as I actually have a child on my knee right now and can’t get up to find the book.
Until recently, I didn’t really know who David Foster Wallace was. He reached his peak of fame in the mid to late nineties, when I was reaching my own peak of partying and boy dramas, and not paying much attention to literary darlings.
Over the past month, I’ve read his biography and his essay collection Consider the Lobster. And I let myself get all psyched out about reading Infinite Jest. It’s more than a thousand pages long. It has multiple main characters and a non-traditional structure. There are end notes galore. And, DFW was one of those painfully smart types… so there’s going to be LOTS going on and can I take it all in? Is my poor sleep deprived brain ready for this? Then I decided to go for it and read that Dave Eggars quote… well, it’s on, now.
100 or so pages in, I can say that yeah, I am ready. The book is long and complicated and layered and all those things, but it’s also funny. DFW imagined a near-future where companies can buy the naming rights to entire YEARS. Much of the story takes place in The Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment.
There’s plenty of serious business, too. A character dies of tainted heroin. People struggle with addiction and depression and the burden of being a prodigy.
There are some clunky bits. I’m not enjoying the Quebec separatist story line (yeah, I know, last thing you expect from an American writer.) In the bio, I learned that DFW’s editor urged him to get rid of it, too.
DFW was way off the mark in terms of how TV and the internet work (assuming that “near future” is sometime around now, which is how I’m thinking of it…) and it sometimes reads a little “off” now that we know how it really happened. Again, from the bio, I know DFW was no lover of the internet. I don’t think he’d be on Twitter if he were around today, or maybe he’d just be a Twitter cranky-pants a la Bret Easton Ellis.
So, I’d like to take David Eggar’s foreword as a challenge. I will read this book with a child on my knee (or arm or stomach or boob, as it were,) damn it!
Anyone else read Infinite Jest? Did you find it difficult?