Saturday, July 23, 2011

I Finished Infinite Jest

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The Summer of Jest is over.  Here are some of my thoughts on the last 300 pages.
Spoilers ahead.

For anyone who chooses to read this book, rest assured that it requires anti-social and obsessive behavior in order to finish it.  I completed it in 34 days, reading an average of 31.7 pages or 14,235 words per.  Though I have had an eventful summer (birth of daughter, sale of one house, purchase of another, lots of moving boxes in between), it still took me the entirety of July to complete it.  Except for 100 pages of Savage Inequalities and an Esquire or two, this is all I read.  Just Jest.

I have a theory about how you should read the end of the novel, which I will cover in tomorrow's post.  My other thoughts on the last 300-or-so-pages run thus: 
  • Don Gately checks out of the narrative on page 619, unconscious, gunshot, bleeding.  He doesn't check in again for nearly 200 pages, and is missed.
  • The tone of the novel takes a dark turn thereafter.  It begins with a disturbing chapter (p. 682) about the abuse Matt Pemulis (Mike's brother) experienced as a child.  Ten pages later, there is a gut-wrenching treatise on mental illness, depression, and suicide, that is ostensibly written from the point of view of Kate Gompert, but reads more like David Foster Wallace's personal explanation of the pain that lead to his own suicide in 2008.  These were two of several parts of the last third of the novel that were difficult to read.
  • Page 876 begins another comic interlude with a ridiculously-long title (reminiscent of the one that began on p. 144).  This one concerns a meeting among advertising executives and high-level government figures who are are discussing a public-service announcement trying to protect youngsters from the dreaded "Entertainment."  It must be read to be believed.
  • Hal's adventure to what he thinks is an N.A. meeting (pp 795-808) but is actually a group therapy session for men searching for their Inner Infant is as hilarious and horrific as anything else in the book, and I read the entire section without breathing. 
The rest of my thoughts concern the ending of the novel, and how to make sense of it, which I will address tomorrow.

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