Infinite Jest


By David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace
ISBN 0-216-92004-5

Review by Erich Strom
Feb. 1996
BookPage


Preceded by a publisher's blurb, which claims David Foster Wallace's first
two books "unleashed a torrent of comparisons with Pynchon, Delillo, Barth,
and Coover," and followed by 87 pages of endnotes, the body of his latest
novel, Infinite Jest, spans 981 dense pages. Infinite Jest is, by any
reckoning, a heavyweight. Furthermore, it is: a stunning novel, a comic
masterpiece, a postmodern equal to the pre-modern titan Tristram Shandy.

In the novel's near future Americans exercise their single freedom
single-mindedly: the inalienable right to consume. Desire and fulfillment
line the shelves in e-z open twin-paks. Technology offers quicker response
times for a nation of addicts choosing from a cornucopia of pleasures.
Infinite Jest is the uncanny nightmare of the dream offered us in today's
headlines: groceries, videos, information, the world available "on demand."
It paints a nation of millions "plugged in" like the lab rat which freely
chooses stimulation of its brain's pleasure center to food and water, and
starves smiling.

Events resonate, repeat, recombine. The multitude of tales twist around each
other as they descend. Imagine a double-helix in which visible directly
across from each high is the low toward which one is falling. Forever
falling the end always in sight. Such is the movement of Infinite Jest's
plot. Such is the fate of the addicts whose courses it charts. "Visceral"
barely describes the novel's effect.

Despite the taxonomical tag "postmodern," Infinite Jest is neither formal
experiment nor obsessive catalogue of pop icons. In fact, Wallace alchemizes
the base practice of peppering novels, movies, and beer ads with
identifiable pop culture references into precious gold.

Where others use Coke and Gilligan as tame props to curry demographic favor,
Wallace illuminates (and, obversely, refuses to facilitate) the exigencies
of a frenzied consumer culture. In a Swiftian gesture, Infinite Jest
sacrifices the ordinal years themselves for sacred advertising space: from
the inaugural Year of the Whopper through the Year of the Trial-Size Dove
Bar to the apocalyptic Year of Glad.

Such mischievous satire is small parcel within the full range of Wallace's
genius. Of Infinite Jest's pleasures the most intoxicating is the march and
hum of words and sentences which form the environment, ambient noise, and
very foundation of any novel. Here they sculpt a sensuous, irresistible
terrain. It is no minor irony that the very thrill and rush of language in
Wallace's hands forms a serious habit. And Wallace accommodates the reader's
desire endlessly-a torrent of tales on tennis (junior-level), Dilaudid, film
theory, eschatology, alcohol, Quebecois separatism, heroin, Greater Boston,
differential calculus, twelve-step recovery, and all things under the sun,
told every which way, with perfect pitch to hilarious effect.

Submit to the addiction and receive Infinite Jest's pleasures unadulterated,
unabridged, and magnificent.


©1996, ProMotion, inc.