I read 20 pages of Infinite Jest today and now I’m all caught up with the Infinite Summer reading schedule, which is to say, I’ve read up to page 232 (out of over 1,000 pages). I continue to love the experience. A lot of what I said in an earlier post remains true: there are lots of short sections that introduce us to many different characters, some of whom know and interact with each other and some of whom don’t. Everything is going to connect up with everything else eventually, I’m betting, and in a way, everything already does, if only in vague and tangential ways, such as shared themes or tropes or images.
There are a few plot threads that we return to again and again, such as the story of the students at the Enfield Tennis Academy (Hal, whom I wrote about in my earlier post is a student there), the family saga of the Incandenzas (including Hal; the adults in this family run the academy and the children attend it), and the residents of the Ennet House, a halfway house for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. The Ennet House is located right next to the academy, which is appropriate, because one of the major themes of the book is drug use and abuse, and many of the students at the academy spend their free time getting high.
And then there are other plot lines as well — a political thriller thread with two comic characters whose loyalties are nearly impossible to figure out, a couple different stories of drug dealing and violence, a really harrowing story of a deeply depressed woman, and lots more. There are also sections that don’t advance the plot much, but are informative or funny or there for some other reason, including one really great section on why video-phones failed.
I think the best way to read the book — at least for me — is to enjoy each section without getting too worried about how everything fits together and whether I’m remembering everything or not. Sometimes beginning a new section can be bewildering, but soon enough I find myself getting oriented to what’s happening and then I can enjoy it, almost like I would a really great short story.
I love the variety in this book, and not just the variety of characters and situations, but the variety of styles and points of view. Wallace takes on different voices now and then, using dialect or giving us a monologue by a particular character, or including transcripts of emails and articles and a paper that Hal wrote for school. There is just such abundance here.
The book is also laugh-out-loud funny (and I don’t usually laugh out loud at books), and also heart-wrenching in moments. And it’s really not that difficult of a read, in spite of the many characters and stories. I find it a much, much easier read than The Recognitions was.
Lots of people on the forums have said that you just have to make it through the first 200-250 pages or so, and then the stories and and ideas begin to come together more and it gets easier to read. If that’s the case, I think I’ll be doing just fine for the next 800 or so pages!
8 responses to “Infinite Jest update”
Glad the reading is going so well. It sounds really interesting and I will be curious to find out if and how all the different threads come together.
Hah! I made it to page 200, so clearly I quit before things came together. All right, you have convinced to give it another try.
This book sounds like quite the project!
Yes, I would say it’s a much easier read than some of the later stories. Glad you’re enjoying it!
This one is on my TBR list because I loved the title. Thanks for a clearer idea of what to expect!
I like your notion of enjoying each section as you would a short story. Several sections do work beautifully in isolation. The videophone section was a favorite of mine, too. And I’m really hoping we get more about those feral hamsters.
Some of the long sections of dialect have been frustrating, and I have to be in just the right mood to appreciate long lists (such as the filmography in the footnotes or Madame Psychosis’s list of the deformed). When I’ve bothered to read them carefully, they’re full of great little details, but if I’m not the mood for details without story or character, I simply can’t make myself concentrate and read with care. Since I’m reading for fun and not a class, I’m trying not to sweat it.
This sounds like a book you really need to commit yourself to–lots of steady reading (not one to set aside for a while and then pick up later). The more you talk about it (and the more I read other commenters–like Teresa above), the more interesting this project sounds!
Stefanie — I’m really enjoying it, and already some pieces are starting to come together. But I still have over 700 pages to go!
Mr. W. — yay!!! I’m glad you’ll be reading this book, and I look forward to hearing what you think. Any chance we can persuade Becky to join?
Debby — it is a big project, although it really comes down to reading about 10 pages a day, which isn’t all that much. It’s not an intimidating when thought about that way!
Richard — well, that makes me curious about the later stories. I plan to read all his work at some point, so I’ll get there eventually.
Jenclair — I think it’s good to have an idea of what to expect with this book!
Teresa — I agree that some of the sections are a little hard to get through, especially the dialect ones and the filmography. But I’m not beating myself up for not getting all the details, so it’s worked okay so far. I pick up what I can, learn a little more from the forums, and then assume I’ll read it again one day, to catch even more the second time around.
Danielle — it’s a book that’s better read steadily, definitely, and having the forums helps a lot too because they fill in some of the details and help me remember things. But at the rate of 10 pages a day, I’m not actually spending TONS of time on it.