Avery Edison

I Am Not Enjoying this Book

07.30.09 | 122 Comments

(Note: This post was not a reaction to Kevin’s post from yesterday, but works in tandem with it, I think. Although it’s safe to say that we each draw very different conclusions.)

I am not enjoying Infinite Jest.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not going to quit. I’m going to read the whole thing and talk about it over the summer because I said I would, but that doesn’t mean I have to lie and pretend I’m having a super-fun experience, right? So here it is. Confession time.

I resent that I’m having to work this hard, that I feel like I’m indulging the author. I resent having to read enormous blocks of text, with no paragraph breaks, for pages and pages at a time. I resent the endnotes that (more often than not) only serve to either waste my time or confuse me even further. I resent that I’m continually reaching supposed milestones (“just make it to page 100!” “get to 200!” “300 is where you get rewarded for all your effort!”) that don’t actually represent any appreciable change in tone, style or plot.

I feel like my time is being wasted with an overabundance of technical explanations of subjects — tennis, drugs — that are largely irrelevant. DFW is explaining the wrong stuff. I’m at page 310 (behind, I know) and by now I’d have absolutely loved to see some explanation of the world these characters live in. Instead, we’re only being given vague allusions to “the great concavity” that leave me itching to check the wallacewiki just so I know what’s bloody going on.

Because that’s the thing — I don’t feel like anything actually is going on. I’ve gotten three hundred pages into this book, and nothing at all has happened. I feel like I have read three hundred pages of introductions to characters. Some of those characters (Hal, the folks at Ennet House) have been introduced multiple times, to no further elucidation. Some of them (James Orin Incandenza Sr., Himself, Guillaume DuPlessis) are freaking dead.

Instead of action, I’m getting portraits. Highly detailed — to a fault — portraits. And that would be fantastic if I were in an art gallery, or reading a collection of biographies. But I’m not — this is supposed to be a story, a series of interesting events told in a compelling manner. Not a bunch of descriptions of people and locales presented in an outright hostile manner to weed out the ‘unworthy’.

This post sounds a lot more hate-fuelled than I intended it to, I’m sure. I don’t hate this book, otherwise I would be quitting.59 But I am frustrated by it, and it is becoming more and more important that a payoff arrive, and soon.

I’m sure it will. Many people I respect are having a great time reading Infinite Jest. I hope I can join them.