This is the first of a five-part roundtable discussion with the Infinite Summer Guides.
Infinite Summer: Congratulations on reaching the halfway point.
Eden M. Kennedy: Thanks.
Matthew Baldwin: Huzzah!
Avery Edison: Thank you. Although I think that once you factor in the endnotes, we technically haven’t even started.
Kevin Guilfoile: I turned 40 last year, which is pretty much halfway to dead. This feels like that in a “I’ve been reading this same novel for so long I’m not sure what I’m going to do after I finish it” way.
IS: What do you think of the novel so far?
KG: I really love this book, and not in a way I can remember ever loving a book before. Last summer I read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, which is also in the 1,000-page range and is about as beautiful a traditional novel as I can imagine. On some sort of linear scale I would tell you I liked both of these books about equally, but if you were charting my feelings about these novels in three dimensions the plots marking my feelings would be pretty distant from one another. Man, so different.
MB: I am also enjoying it immensely. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also find it taxing. I once likened reading Infinite Jest to exercising, and that opinion hasn’t changed: I’m happy while I’m doing it, I’m happy having done it, but getting myself to do it everyday is something of a challenge. I also find myself eager to be done reading the novel the first time so I can start reading it the allegedly more rewarding second.
AE: I’ve very recently started enjoying the book, although I’m having trouble articulating just what about it that I’m so enjoying. I had a lot of frustrations related to the lack of information we’d received in the first few hundred pages, and now that we’ve learned a little more about the ‘world’ of the book I’m happier to plow through it.
EMK: I feel as though it really took getting past page 400 for the book to open up for me, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m a crummy reader or because patterns are beginning to take shape or because the characters are familiar enough to me now, or what. But despite some rocky weeks, I know I’ll finish it now, and I’m looking forward to finding out what it is that happens at the end that makes some people turn right back to page one and immediately start over again.
IS: And the endnotes?
MB: I have gone back and forth on the issue about two dozen times in the last month, and right now I’m learning away from “essential literary device” and toward “gratuitous pain in the ass”. Plus I just don’t buy any of the rationales I’ve heard for them: that they simulate the game of tennis, that they simulate the fractured way we’d be receiving information in Wallace’s imagined future, that they are there to constantly remind you that you are reading a book, etc. I’d be more inclined to believe these theories Infinite Jest was the only thing Wallace had written that included them. But the more you read his other works, the more it becomes obvious that Wallace couldn’t even sign a credit card slip without bolting on an addendum. The dude loved endnotes–I’m pretty sure that’s the only real reason they are there.
KG: Everything DFW writes is in some way about this difficulty we have communicating. I mean I don’t think it’s as contrived as that—I think he finds endnotes practical as a way of imparting information without interrupting the primary narrative—but I think they are useful in the context of these themes that he’s always returning to.
MB: Why do you always take David’s side?
EMK: I’ve completely gotten used to the endnotes and I actually look forward to them, as they often turn into little punchlines for jokes you had no idea you were being set up for.
AE: I’m not really that bothered by the them. I can definitely see where they could have been included in the text (either as parenthetical asides, or as footnotes on the page), but it is nice to have a break from the main text now and then. I think I also like that, whilst everything else about DFW’s style is so subtle and cultured, there’s something rather in-your-face about his use of endnotes. I like that it’s a very clear “eff you” to the reader.