I read something recently (I forget where, though I suspect either a comment to a blog post or perhaps even a tweet, which, this latter, would be pretty fitting) about how Wallace could be saying a lot of what he says with a whole lot fewer words. The idea, I guess, is that the sort of prose Wallace gives us in Infinite Jest is in a way masturbatory and hostile to the reader. I remember feeling this way about books I was forced to read in high school. It’s related to the “I’ll never use this algebra stuff again anyway” attitude I also had in high school. It arises out of a sort of pragmatism, I guess: For the person wanting simply to say that he read the book, all those words do rather hinder progress.
The thing about literary fiction is that it has mannerisms, and these mannerisms are often what make it worth reading. A Dan Brown book and a John Grisham book are more or less interchangeable in terms of the prose framework across which the often riveting (I’m not throwing stones here) plots are strung. It’s the style, the tics and quirks and fluidity or herky-jerkiness of the prose (and a thousand other things) that make literary fiction fun to read. It’s not about efficiency.
Saying that an author like Wallace is using too many words is like saying that — well, let’s just go with a big obvious but simple example here — DaVinci should have rendered the Mona Lisa as a stick figure. Surely no one will doubt that that modified painting I’m imagining would in a general sense convey the idea “woman” (or “person,” at least), but all of the nuance, all of what makes the picture art rather than just a picture would be leached out of it.