I began Infinite Jest the other day and am up to date with the Infinite Summer schedule, which means I’ve read up to page 63 — out of 981 pages, not including the lengthy endnotes section. So far things are going well, but I’m already aware that I’m not going to get everything going on in the book. I mean, I’ll be able to follow the plot and will understand the basics of what is happening, but I can already tell that there will be connections among characters and plot events and ideas that I will get some but not all of. A lot of characters have been introduced and I can already see some recurring themes and motifs that surely will be important, but I will have to carry a lot in my head over the course of such a long book to make sense of it all. This isn’t a book to understand fully in just one reading, I can see that already.
But I really am enjoying it. The opening section is brilliant. It describes one of the main characters, Hal, in an interview with a university admissions committee, the members of which are trying to understand some “irregularities” in Hal’s application. He’s a tennis star, and they really want to admit him, but while his grades are excellent and his admissions essays beyond brilliant (suspiciously so), his test scores don’t fit the profile. In the course of the interview, Hal just sits there, not saying anything, letting his uncle and his uncle’s assistant speak for him. Finally the committee gets Hal on his own, and finally Hal starts talking, and what he says sounds perfectly reasonable, but the committee starts to stare and look horrified and freak out, and finally they call an ambulance and get Hal taken away. It’s unclear what happened, but it explains why Hal was so quiet to start with — he knows that he can try as much as he likes, but what he says will be very different from what people hear. The scene is funny and sad both, and it’s a way to introduce what I’m sure will be a major theme of the book — the difficulty of communicating with others.
I’ve been following the discussions going on in the Infinite Summer forums as well, although I’m not participating (for no particular reason except I don’t feel like it — I have enough online writing to do already). It’s nice to read what others are thinking, and it helps me to see things I might otherwise have missed. Even though I’m observing and not participating in this reading group, I still feel like I’m benefiting from it.