My first foray into the works of Mr. Wallace, before reading Infinite Jest, was a few years ago walking by this book at book stores and knowing by the Cover of Infinite Jest and the ‘Vibe’ of the book that it was popular.
Unhappily, as it turns out, I finally did buy the book to read after learning somewhat belatedly that Mr. Wallace had committed Suicide.
In the Forward of this book (Noted Author Dave Eggers) Writes:
Page by Page, line by line, it is probably the strangest, most distinctive, and most involved work of fiction by an American in the last twenty years. At no time while reading Infinite Jest are you unaware that this is a work of complete obsession, of a stretching of the mind of a young writer to the point of, we assume near madness.
Mr. Egger’s is the author of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” a book that I’ve not read but those words and that title could be the title of a Biography of Mr. David Foster Wallace, as his untimely departure has significantly expanded the memory as to his work into the realm of the Unknown.
Wallace committed suicide on September 12, 2008, as confirmed by the October 27, 2008 autopsy report.
In an interview with The New York Times, Wallace’s father reported that Wallace had suffered from depression for more than 20 years and that antidepressant medication had allowed him to be productive. When he experienced severe side effects from the medication, Wallace attempted to wean himself from his primary antidepressant, Nardil.
On his doctor’s advice, Wallace stopped taking the medication in June 2007, and the depression returned. Wallace received other treatments including electroconvulsive therapy. When he returned to Nardil, he found it had lost its effectiveness. In the months before his death, his depression became severe.
Numerous gatherings were held to honor Wallace after his death, including memorial services at Pomona College, Amherst College, and on October 23, 2008, at NYU — the latter with speakers including his sister, Amy Wallace Havens; his agent, Bonnie Nadell; Gerry Howard, the editor of his first two books; Colin Harrison, editor at Harper’s Magazine; Michael Pietsch, the editor of Infinite Jest and Wallace’s later work; Deborah Treisman, fiction editor at The New Yorker; as well as authors Don DeLillo, Zadie Smith, George Saunders, Mark Costello, Donald Antrim, and Jonathan Franzen.
Completely Original Infinite Jest does remind one of Gravities Rainbow, not so much in tone or circumference but in it’s complete and utter original voice. One doesn’t just read Infinite Jest, One is Read By It. There it sits over in your book corner while you’re going about your life, and for the life of me it won’t let go. I started reading Infinite Jest 2 months ago and really took my time, at first I was hoping to be able to read it quickly, but then I realized that that wouldn’t be happening. I gave up and literally read 10 pages a day, something which I haven’t done since Proust. Only during the last 400 pages of Infinite Jest did I begin to read 20 pages a day. So, you see, do pick it up with a serious mind.
First off, Infinite Jest is 981 Pages of sheer Audacity. This book is Audacious with a Capital A. Here is a writer who has a powerful and singular voice and it does amaze a reader that at times, through his stories of his small cast of characters you can find yourself deep in the rhythm of Mr. Wallace’s great story-telling ability. It’s as Rare as Hell, to be able to write as an actual Story-Teller. It is astounding to find a work like Jest in this world where Pablum is the Goal and Repetition the Rule. Under the command of Mr. Wallace Infinite Jest begins to weave a very unique spell.
There is in Infinite Jest a singular family, a family that appears to have creativity at its core with a number of young sons who are athletes, especially Hal Incandenza… the father of this clan, Jim Incandenza, is a erstwhile Director/Creator of quirky off-beat films, this father seems to have a cloud over all the participants of this family, in that, he the father, is long dead in the present tense of the novel and Author Wallace does make it very clear that the late father (suicide by Microwave!) is nearly a haunting presence to this family of young men and tennis prodigies. The Mother of the family, Avril Incandenza, is still alive however and she is an Administrator at the Enfield Tennis Academy (“ETA”, where much of the ‘action’ of Infinite Jest takes place. During the book there is a mysterious Video Tape created by the late father Jim Incandenza that seems to have a paralyzing effect on viewers essentially rendering them into living vegetables… this tape is investigated by a governmental agency to some very odd effect… the tapes title is Infinite Jest. There is really no resolution to these plot points and I’m only putting them down, because as you delve deeper into Mr. Wallace’s Infinite Jest you may not like what your reading, there are a lot of things about the book to hate, but you will surely not be untouched by it.
Mr. Wallace has another part to the book that stretches from beginning to end. The obsessive compulsions of addiction are in evidence. Most everyone in Infinite Jest are substance abusers or seriously ‘Bent’ in one way or another. Mr. Wallace is so matter of fact about matters though, that he doesn’t seem to care one way or another what you think. A bit later in the book Mr. Wallace introduces us to Don Gately, a former thief and Demerol addict, who now works for The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, which appears to be just down the street from the Enfield Tennis Academy. Don Gately is a massive man who is a rabid member of AA at the Enfield home, and as we learn of him we see that he is finally clear of the drugs and binging that has plagued his life. These ‘Gately’ sections of the book, are to me the more telling, than the tennis and Incandenza portions of the tale. Mr. Wallace is so proficient in his understanding of drugs and usage that one is drawn very realistically into Gately’s life story which is heartbreakingly ordinary in its American Brutality.
Let’s face it, this nation isn’t a comfort to the disenfranchised and unfortunately there isn’t yet a Religion, that addresses anything near the emotions, needs and desires of a huge population of America’s ‘throw-aways’. It’s a huge population of ‘do-it-yourselfer’s’ without a hand or hope in Hell of ever getting ahead of the monster that has become America’s Gentry. The Alka-Seltzer majority that talks a game but, in the end isn’t interested in America’s troubled Inner-Core. These fall through the crack people are generally fine individuals, and have amazing survival skills, as does Mr. Wallace’s Gately, a behemoth that is very recognizable to Americans of this nation who don’t live with a laugh track.
Don Gately’s story is the vibrant core of the book and indeed, could have been the entire thing. As you are reading Infinite Jest you’re never quite sure exactly where Mr. Wallace is taking us. He is so in command though, that it does surprise. You don’t feel the feeding masses hurtling along with the mind of Mr. Wallace. His world is entirely his own.
In the Forward by Mr. Eggers, he does state a wish of the Publisher, Little Brown and Company, of Infinite Jest; the need to show others that the book is at least approachable. That it can be read by Anyone. Which in fact is amusing because I’m sure it would be nice to sell more copies, and surely the imprint is honored to have this book as one of its own, who wouldn’t be?
Yet Infinite Jest is not an accessible work. It’s in fact, very unapproachable, even though the good Mr. Eggers does go on about it’s readability, one realizes while reading it that you’re either 100% into it or not at all. Mr. Wallace doesn’t exactly demand our participation, he could give a damn, but it’s your choice…
How this book will live on and how it will influence generations to come will be something interesting to witness. I don’t think that Mr. Wallace has yet found his true audience, yet, sure, College Students and Academics are in the know, but it well may take a new breed of man or woman to unlock it’s popularity and characteristics… yet as an artifact, Infinite Jest is such that it should shine beyond the usual Fray of more ordinary works. It’s a Keeper alright, but just what kind of Keeper is yet to be known. Mr. David Foster Wallace, his life and death, such a thing, to end life of its own accord, we must respect Mr. Wallace’s decision, those of us who don’t know him, and let his essence, for now, be Heart-Breaking.
Indeed A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius describes Infinite Jest and Mr. Wallace very well.