Sunday, January 23, 2011

Infinite Jest

If you check the Must Read list featured on this blog, you'll notice that David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest is among top 10 favorite books of all time. I discovered Wallace late in the game (he had taken his own life by the time I read any of his work) and in a rather roundabout way (David Lipsky's road bio Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself1 convinced me that Wallace understood), but have, over the last year and a half, read every book he has ever published. I just finished re-reading Infinite Jest for my book club (meeting January 31st at BookPeople at 7pm; feel free to drop in).
I love this book even more the second time around. For such an epic tome (almost 1000 pages without the footnotes) it is one of the most intensely personal novels that I have ever read; as intimate as it is infinite. It's two protagonists, Don Gately and Hal Incandenza, are two of the most fully developed in fiction. Its themes, too numerous to list exhaustively, include fear and addiction and escape and connection and the things we'll do to avoid pain and the ways we grow when we face pain and how we always give ourselves to something and the point is to consciously choose the right thing to give ourselves to. Wallace captures the speech patterns of late 20th century America pitch perfectly. He is as funny as he is deep. He helps us understand what it is to be human and to face those epiphanies that we've been avoiding. His writing is prophetic and patient and kind and, sometimes, cruel. It is Wallace who once stated that "The truth will set you free, but not until it's finished with you." This book is about that. It's amazing. And I highly recommend picking it up.

1) I strongly suggest picking up Lipsky's book as a companion piece to Infinite Jest. It is a memoir/interview/road novel that captures Wallace on the last days of his IJ book tour. Wonderful stuff. Insightful and fun. And you can join us to discuss it (meeting the last Monday in February at BookPeople at 7pm)

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