Finished this morning

I hit the Sept 18th spoiler line on the 12th but have been unable to make myself read forward. I think I was afraid of how it would end.

I wasn’t expecting a Hollywood-style ending, of course, or even something that tied up all the threads in any meaningful way. Neither would have fit the book.

But I was surprised by the depths of the violence at the end. Sorkin’s men and that awful eye “surgery” and the pain of Pamela Hoffman-Jeep. Orin under a huge glass dome and the roaches pouring in. Even the slow degeneration of Barry Loach is a form of violence, as he goes from believing in people to doubting them and then to a near-wreck state.

The last good action in the book, the last kind and generous thing, is done by Mario. Mario might be the only truly good person in the book.

I don’t know how to sum up the experience of reading IJ. There were some beautiful moments and certainly some stunning writing. Some of the ugliest moments (Accomplice!, the horrible death of S. Johnson the dog) included some of the best writing. The concepts of sponsored time, of the UHID, of eschaton, are truly brilliant. And I will never hear the words “something smells delicious” again without thinking (with a shudder, no doubt) of IJ.

But then there were the meanderings that never seemed to link to anything else, the drug-detail footnotes (I didn’t mind the other footnotes, frankly, but reading drugs’ chemical composition? Why? I know he had a reason, but I can’t see it), and the parts that seemed deliberately designed to confuse.

I felt early on like I just wasn’t seeing “the point” of the book. I still feel like there’s an overall point that I’ve missed. But perhaps that IS the point: that there isn’t one. Ending a book called “Infinite Jest” with three apparently unrelated anecdotes that all include pain and ugliness is maybe intended to show the randomness of life and the depths of ugliness within most people.

I don’t know. But I know I’ll be thinking of IJ for a long time, and that’s the mark of something great.

4 thoughts on “Finished this morning

  1. Daryl Houston September 22, 2009 / 9:32 am

    Hey, glad you made it to the end, Heather. Thanks for the update, and I’m glad your overall impression of the book is that it’s something great, if not tidy. Things make more sense the more you read the book, of course, though they never pull entirely together, which is probably a source of great frustration for lots of readers. I happen to like it. Life ain’t tidy, you know?

  2. Dan Summers September 22, 2009 / 5:53 pm

    Re: the only truly good person in the book, I would also suggest that you add Pat M. to the list.

    I was maddened by the seemingly endless number of digressions the first time I read IJ, but the second time around I came to appreciate that DFW, like JOI, wanted to compose a work that had no nameless figurants. Just about every person who walks into the action gets their story told, and we are left with an immensely rich picture of the lives of the characters, their world, their pains and minor triumphs and struggles, etc. It’s a large part of what makes the book so deeply beautiful.

  3. Chazpf September 23, 2009 / 2:21 pm

    “I felt early on like I just wasn’t seeing “the point” of the book. I still feel like there’s an overall point that I’ve missed.”

    My take: “the point” of the book is pretty simple (I’ve heard DFW comment to that effect), it reveals our (USA, or Western society, or probably just people) addiction to entertainment. Simple as that is, it isn’t so easy to see that the same things, involving communication and cages and much more, are affecting all the characters, aka all of us, and why all these problems are making each other worse. And how any escape is possible. I’m not sure if DFW was convinced that there was, surely he went back and forth, although in IJ he proposes some kind of AA-inspired model could work. The last image of the book is, for me, a triumphant view from the center of the Sierpinski triangle, from where Gately sees the landscape of this entertainment addicted society: cold and grey, but the triumph is that he can see it. I’m looking forward to the Pale King for DFW’s long-awaited stab at a prescription for the diagnosis that is IJ.

  4. Heather Wardell September 24, 2009 / 8:49 am

    Dan, I agree, Pat M goes on that list too.

    Chazpf, excellent point on “the point”. That does make sense to me and helps tie things together.

    Daryl, life ain’t tidy indeed, which I think is part of why I prefer my books to end with at least some tidiness. But I am still very glad I persevered!

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