INFINATE JEST is enormous in many regards.
THE INTIMIDATION FACTORS:
Its sheer girth — it’s nearly the size of a phone book, and thicker than some.
1079 pages stare you down, laughing at the amount of your assigned pages for homework.
388 must-read footnotes spanning 96 pages.
Wallace himself once said the novel is structured like something called a Sierpinski Gasket. Google that.
An expansive vocabulary that may require a top-shelf dictionary as a companion.
Dave Eggers wrote the foreword in the ten year anniversary edition of INFINATE JEST, and his description is, “This book is like a spaceship with no recognizable components, no rivets or bolts, no entry points, no way to take it apart. It is very shiny, and it has no discernible flaws. If you could somehow smash it into smaller pieces, there would certainly be no way to put it back together again. It simply is. Page by page, line by line, it is probably the strangest, most distinctive, and most involved work of fiction by an American in the last twenty years.”
The book is plain fun, though. Read a few pages of it when you have writer’s block. It will jar you out of any sort of writing rut you’re in. Read it dozens of pages at a time, or pick it apart two or three pages a day. Your dedication will pay off. Of course, while reading, the book requires your full attention. As Eggers wrote, “It can’t be read at a crowded café.” Believe me – I tried that very thing.
As soon as I finished, my description to friends was that my upper body felt like it had been lifted in a hot air balloon while my lower body was simultaneously sinking in quicksand. Of course, I also touchdown spiked the book onto the fourth floor of the quiet library. It was that sort of feeling.
In the first few pages, the main character Hal describes being conveyed to an emergency room, detained and unresponsive to questions. When responsive, he is finally sedated. Hal says that it is the inverse of an ambulance, “I’ll make the journey first, then depart.” Thus it is with reading INFINATE JEST.
Now the question is this: Will you actually read it?