Infinite Jest Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Updated on August 14, 2019
Mel Carriere profile image

Reviewer Mel Carriere does not 'Just Say No' to literary monstrosities. He will pop a huge horse pill so you, dear reader, don't have to.

By the end Infinite Jest was in tatters, literally falling apart in my hands.  I had to use rubber bands to keep the novel from bursting its literary rivets.
By the end Infinite Jest was in tatters, literally falling apart in my hands. I had to use rubber bands to keep the novel from bursting its literary rivets. | Source

Infinite Horizon

When I embark upon a Lunchtime Lit book on my 30 minute Postal Lunch break, I fully intend to finish. Like the dogged sea captain Columbus, I am not going to turn back just because my crew cries out we are going to sail off the map. Instead I keep the prow pointed steadily ahead, quash any mutinous landlubbers, and press on to new lands beyond the horizon, where I take on stores and start a new voyage.

But for the first time in the history of Lunchtime Lit, failure to launch almost occurred. David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest caused the gloom of the crew to infect me too, and I was tempted to turn back. I failed to visualize the wonders of the Indies or the riches of Cathay ahead, imagining only a bleak, infinite horizon, where I would be stranded beyond rescue upon some doldrums.

So within just a couple days of embarking on this literary voyage I was contemplating quitting. The enterprise was just too tedious and daunting, the book was living up to both parts of its name, in both the Infinite and the Jest. There were some really, really funny passages, but the infinite tipped the scales on the jest and I just didn't have any hope I could slog my way through. And those footnotes! The horror!

Nonetheless I forged ahead, just to see what would happen. I feared the unimpeachable integrity of Lunchtime Lit would be compromised, never to recover, if I cut my losses and ran. As such, I slogged through those dim and dismal seas for you, my faithful LL reader. By the end of the nearly six months it took me to read this book - which has enough paper to require felling a Sequoia grove, the thing was in tatters. It was literally falling apart in my hands. I had to use rubber bands to keep the novel from bursting its literary rivets. Fortunately I am a mailman, so this commodity is never in short supply and I could strap it together and keep going. For you.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * ** ***

Book
Pages
Word Count
Date Started
Date Finished
Lunchtimes Consumed
The Mountain Shadow
838
285,650
2/17/2017
4/28/2017
37
A Confederacy of Dunces
392
124,470
4/29/2017
6/5/2017
17
The Martian
369
104,588
6/7/2017
6/29/2017
16
The Slynx
295
106,250
7/3/2017
7/25/2017
16
The Master And Margarita
394
140,350
7/26/2017
9/1/2017
20
Blood Meridian
334
116,322
9/11/2017
10/10/2017
21
Infinite Jest
1079
577,608
10/16/2017
4/3/2018
102

* Eleven other titles, with a total estimated word count of 2,772,200 and 375 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

***If the dates are lagging, it is because I am still slogging along, trying to catch up after a prolonged sabbatical from reviewing. Barring another one of life's train wrecks this list may someday be current, but don't hold your breath.

Lunchtime Lit Rules

All Lunchtime Books are read only on Mel's half hour lunch break, never to be smuggled home for reading under the influence of controlled, or uncontrolled substances. I couldn't get Infinite Jest home anyway without a wheelbarrow.

I postulated that Infinite Jest's author was really an undercover government agent, disseminating anti-drug propaganda through the novel. Maybe he knew too much, and Big Pharma had to assassinate him.
I postulated that Infinite Jest's author was really an undercover government agent, disseminating anti-drug propaganda through the novel. Maybe he knew too much, and Big Pharma had to assassinate him. | Source

Just Say No

The very manner in which I acquired Infinite Jest says a lot about the novel. On this note, let me first voice a disclaimer. Although I do like to throw down a brewski a couple three times a week, I do not indulge in recreational pharmaceuticals at all. But I do have a friend who likes to, shall we say, spark one up regularly. Although I do not share this hobby of his we do share literary interests, and he recommends books to me that sometimes show up in my Lunchtime Lit reviews.

This dear friend of mine picked up Infinite Jest at the worst conceivable time, while he was up for a promotion and had to detox himself for a possible drug test. The process was agonizing. This was the one book he didn't want to read while weaning himself off the weed, because the core of Infinite Jest deals with withdrawal, sometimes very painful withdrawal. Two major characters, Hal Incandenza and Don Gately, are recovering addicts. A significant portion of the disjointed narrative follows their struggle with chemical dependency, while also suggesting that addiction to electronic medium, the so-called elusive and deadly "entertainment" stalking the story, might be the worst monkey to kick of all.

My friend identified perfectly with the characters trying to kick the habit. It was excruciating to endure their trauma while going through his own ordeal, but still he could not put it down. That seems to be a common thread for Infinite Jest users - like the addictions it chronicles, once it finally grabs you you're stuck.

Once I had also finished the novel, I postulated to my friend that perhaps author David Foster Wallace was really an undercover government agent, disseminating anti-drug propaganda through the novel. The book is so unconventional, avant-garde, and downright trippy, it is the perfect disguise for a simple just say no message. No self-respecting drug addict would suspect he was being led onto the path of righteousness by reading it. And then, I added, maybe Wallace knew way too much, and they had to assassinate him.

A brilliant philosopher-mathematician with enough athletic ability to be a ranked junior tennis player, somewhere along the way David Foster Wallace sunk into a deep despondency that caused him to eliminate his own map
A brilliant philosopher-mathematician with enough athletic ability to be a ranked junior tennis player, somewhere along the way David Foster Wallace sunk into a deep despondency that caused him to eliminate his own map | Source

Finite Tragedy - Lunchtime Lit Kiss of Death Revisited

It is dangerous to be reviewed here on Lunchtime Lit. Unlike the Sports Illustrated jinx, which simply leads to degraded athletic performance, many Lunchtime Lit authors or their art suffer untimely demise before or after publication. Yes I understand that the death of these authors or suppression of their work occurred long before Lunchtime Lit was ever conceived, but if there is one thing Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace taught me, it is that chronology is not important at all.

Could Wallace truly have been a secret operative for a clandestine anti-drug cell, perhaps working in opposition to Big Pharma, who put the hit on him because anti-drug anthem Infinite Jest was getting in the way of making more opioid addicts? Probably not, but it is fun to publish such unfounded statements and see how many people will spread them.

The truth about Wallace is considerably uglier than being pursued by sadistic Wheelchair Assassins seeking to ensure his permanent silence. A brilliant philosopher-mathematician with enough athletic ability to be a ranked junior tennis player, somewhere along the way he sunk into a deep despondency that caused him to eliminate his own map, a euphemism for suicide he uses frequently in the novel.

Wallace suffered from major depressive disorder for 20 years. Although in the biopic film The End of The Tour the author is reluctant to admit to his widely speculated opioid addiction, he did undergo drug and alcohol rehab treatment in the late 80s. Afterward his writing career took off, but in 2007 he stopped using anti-depressants and on September 12, 2008, at the age of 46, he hung himself from the rafters of his home. Sadly, his life became a reflection of his most celebrated novel. Dependency is the theme that pulses through every interminable paragraph of Infinite Jest, and perhaps the book was the author's ultimately failed catharsis of his own demons.

Lunchtime Lit Jinx

Author
Book
Fate
Vasily Grossman
Life And Fate
Died before his best book was published
John Kennedy Toole
A Confederacy of Dunces
Committed suicide before his best book was published
Mikhail Bulgakov
The Master and Margarita
Died before his best book was published
David Foster Wallace
Infinite Jest
Committed suicide after his best book was published

Pick Your Poison

Yes I jest about Infinite Jest being the subversive bible, the Das Kapital of an underground, say no to drugs cell, waging guerilla warfare against the pharmaceutical industry. Whether my jest be infinite or shorter, Wallace still paints an unsympathetic portrait of drug abuse here, which should make him the poster child for every temperance group in the rehab directory, from Al-Anon to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Wallace also denounces a more sinister form of addiction, one that is perfectly legal and socially acceptable. In fact, it is almost socially unacceptable not to participate in this particular vice. It does not cause measurable inebriation while driving and may not show up when you pee in the bottle for the human resources folks, but nonetheless this obsession induces impairment in other insidious ways.

I have another good friend who, quite in contrast to my herb puffing buddy, never uses any sort of chemical enhancement to get through his day. He fanatically avoids drugs, alcohol, even caffeine. Yet every chance he gets he buries his face in a screen. Even at lunch, while I toil through these massive paper tigers I review for you, he is watching some show he streams on his phone. Then after work he rushes home and plops down in front of his big screen TV, to indulge in binge watching until bedtime. While he will offer intelligent opinions on all topics, his most enthusiastic conversation is reserved for TV talk, from Game of Thrones to any women's prison series, which he is particularly fond of.

My friend might be puffed up with his chemical free, clean living lifestyle, but I pose the question whether he is any less of a junkie than the sketched out guy huffing Sharpies in a back alley. I don't care about your vices, pick your poison say I, but don't get sanctimonious about my behavior when your own meets certain addiction criteria as well.

Wallace also seems to recognize the dangers of electronic dependency, demonstrated in one of Infinite Jest's main plot lines, the determined pursuit of radical terrorist organizations and government counter-terrorism operatives to gain possession of an "entertainment," one so utterly addictive it turns everyone who watches it into a useless vegetable. Far fetched? The entertainment business is a megabillion dollar industry. Marriages are wrecked by video game, pornography, and Facebook obsession, and the marketing behemoth that walks hand in hand with these giants brainwashes us into product dependency, as effectively as if we smoked advertising images out of a crack pipe. This is not a far cry from the dark satire of Infinite Jest, where even calendar years are corporate sponsored. Perhaps this is a bit of hyperbole on Wallace's part, but don't put it past Madison Avenue to try it, here in our year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster.

One of Infinite Jest's main plot lines is the determined pursuit by radical terrorist organizations and government counter terrorist operatives of an "entertainment,"  that turns everyone who watches it into a useless vegetable
One of Infinite Jest's main plot lines is the determined pursuit by radical terrorist organizations and government counter terrorist operatives of an "entertainment," that turns everyone who watches it into a useless vegetable | Source

Navigating Your Infinite Quest

In my previous review of McCarthy's Blood Meridian, I discussed techniques a reader could use to get through it, introducing a breathing method that involves breaking up extended passages into stanzas and reading them like a poem. This won't work for Infinite Jest. True, there are some prolonged sentences that will have you sucking wind at the end, but while the prose is well constructed, it is not particularly poetic.

Even though we can't use the Blood Meridian template here, there are a couple of tips I will pass along that may or may not make your Infinite Jest journey more tolerable. It's not twelve steps, only three, so get a grip.

  1. You cannot skip the footnotes. In most books, especially of the academic variety, footnotes are only professional citations, which won't decrease your understanding if they are avoided. Footnotes generally make my scalp itch, so I pretend they are not there. You can't do that with Infinite Jest. Even though novels aren't supposed to have footnotes at all they rear their submerged heads here, and are essential to understanding what the book is about. There are entire stories in the footnotes, some of them pretty good. Some of the footnotes are sheer drudgery. Some of the footnotes have footnotes. Yes, they make the progression of pages frustratingly slow because you have to keep flipping back to the endpapers, but you can't skip the annoying buggers and still make a semblance of sense out of this mess.
  2. Read the book twice. The last chapter is where the first chapter should be, and the other chapters are scattered haphazardly throughout in a mathematical structure known as a Sierpinski Gasket. So even though it's difficult to grapple with the novel's structure the first time around, my stoner friend assures me that if you read its mere 600,000 words again, everything makes perfect sense.
  3. You might want to actually try getting stoned. I didn't, and maybe that is why the book's true meaning eludes me.

Infinite Jest is too big a book to wrap up neatly. It's like trying to wrap a new car and put it under the Christmas tree without your wife guessing what it is. Nobody can guess what Infinite Jest is. You might love it, you might hate it, you just might love it and hate it at the same time, like me. You might feel relief you made it to the end at last, then miss it afterward, like longing after a departed high-maintenance lover. One certainty about the surreal, disjointed landscape of Infinite Jest is that if you do press on to the end, you'll be thinking, talking, puzzling about it for a long time. And maybe that is the defining characteristic of a truly groundbreaking novel.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        9 days ago from San Diego California

        Good point Road Monkey. Every day it gets harder to squint at the tiny phone screen. In the future, I believe humans will evolve with big, batlike eyes. I really appreciate you dropping in. Sorry for my late response. As I explained to John, Maven is killing me.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        9 days ago from San Diego California

        Sorry John for not keeping up on my comments. This hub pages Maven monstrosity swallows up my phone screen so that I cannot comment there. Since I do most of my work two fingers on the phone, this hinders me a lot. Anyway, I don´t think skipping this book will do you any harm. At any rate, you´ve heard of it, so you can impress your friends at those literati cocktail parties you attend. Thanks for dropping in!

      • RoadMonkey profile image

        RoadMonkey 

        2 weeks ago

        Great review. I don't think I will read it however, as I am saving my eyesight for internet addiction! I used to read so many books but now I spend more time on the computer.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        2 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

        Another great review Mel. This is probably not my cup of tea right now. I used to love epic novels, the thicker the better but in recent years my spare time and/or attention span has decreased and so I opt for smaller, quicker reads. Infinite Jest does sound very interesting though. I often find the story behind the author’s lives more enthralling than the books themselves however, and I’d like to read more about David Foster Wallace.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        2 months ago from San Diego California

        Thank you Linda for dropping in with nice words. He was nine years younger than I am when he died, no telling what he might have gone on to accomplish.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        A work of fiction with footnotes within the footnotes sounds very strange. I'm sorry about the fate of the author. Your review of his work was creative and entertaining, as always.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        2 months ago from San Diego California

        Road Monkey when I was a kid they told us the TV was going to make us all junkies, but we couldn't carry our TVs everywhere. Smart phones are glued to people's faces 24/7. I'm as junkie as anyone, I'm writing this on a phone. Thanks for reading!

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        2 months ago from San Diego California

        Thanks for reading Bill. Yes this author was in his prime.

      • RoadMonkey profile image

        RoadMonkey 

        2 months ago

        I have read only one on your list - The Master and Margarita - but I don't remember what it was about! That was a very interesting review and I MAY try to find the book. Electronic addiction starts very young!

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        2 months ago from Olympia, WA

        As a recovering alcoholic, I tend to stay clear of books like this one. I've lived despondency; I see no reason to read about it. :( Tragic ending for sure; definitely final.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        2 months ago from San Diego California

        Great point about writers using conjecture, Mills. I think a good writer learns how to crawl inside someone else's skin. But I think Infinite Jest was at least semi- autobiographical. One of the book's settings is an elite tennis academy. Wallace was an exceptional tennis player. Another setting was a rehab facility. Wallace did time in one of those. I don't know if you can say the book was a cry for help, but there was some soul purging going on here. One thing I failed to mention, however, is that that soul feels empty. Wallace writes a lot of clever prose but there's no life in it. You can get a glimpse into his darkness from that, I think. Thanks for dropping in!

      • profile image

        Pat Mills 

        2 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

        I believe I know people who would never realize a gift-wrapped car under a Christmas tree if they saw one. These are the very same people who think I don't know anything simply because my job doesn't require a degree to do it. We may all be addicts in our own right. Our electronics can take up an inordinate amount of our time. I also drink, but I also don't do it every day. Breaking away from anything consuming can seem like an infinite quest. A just say no attitude is too simplistic.

        As to Pamela's point, I certainly hope someone can write about all sorts of things without firsthand experience. Writers should not have to murder to be able to create credible prose or poetry about it. Also, none of us can know the opposite sex from personal experience. Yet, writers will go from observation and conjecture to create their work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this novel, and good finding a writer who avoids your jinx.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        2 months ago from San Diego California

        Thank you Pamela. I am glad you found it interesting. Most reviews focus on the technical aspects of the book, plot, characterization, etc. I prefer to describe my own experience with the book. How did it make me feel? What did it make me think? How does it relate to my life experiences?

        I really appreciate you dropping in!

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        2 months ago from Sunny Florida

        Mel, Your review of this book was amazing as it sounds a bit like a chore to wade through the footnotes, not to mention the sheer length of the book.

        It is very admiralable the way you keep such details about the books you read at lunchtime. I think if I was really hooked on a book, I would sneak it home from time ti time.

        It is sad that Wallace ended his life. Can you write about withdrawal if you have not experienced it? I suppose talking with those who have experienced it would give you enough information.

        I like your manner of writing when describing the sad state of the book, its contents and your friend. Very interesting review!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)