So this week—and last week, and the week before that, and the week before that, and for several weeks yet to come—I am reading one of those novels for which the term “doorstopper” was invented: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace.
It took me a little while to get used to the style of the book, and even longer to start to figure out what the hell is going on. At this point, I would characterize Infinite Jest as an alternate history science fiction novel*, set in a world where some sort of catastrophic event resulted in the destruction of an apparently large portion of northern New England, in which Alberta-based Canadian separatist terrorists are, I think, trying to get their hands on a “video entertainment” cartridge that’s so riveting that anyone who starts watching it pretty much keeps watching it until they die, not unlike those who had the misfortune to encounter the funniest joke in the world in that classic Monty Python sketch:
At least, I think that’s what happens to those who watch the video. I mean, I’ve only been reading the book since the beginning of September, so I’m not that far into it yet. 😐
Anyway, in between the geopolitics and espionage, there’s also lots of scenes of drug use, drug test evasion, drug rehab (the teaser, above, comes from a chapter set in the drug rehab), youth tennis, capitalism run wild, and any number of chapter-long digressions ranging from fascinating to bizarre to bizarrely fascinating**.
And so everyone’s taken aback when Eric Clipperton of all people suddenly appears at the E.T.A. front gate’s portcullis on a rainy warm late A.M. two days before the Clays, wearing a flap-frayed trench-type coat and toe-abraded sneakers and a five-day growth of armpitty adolescent beard, but without any sticks or anything in the way of competitive gear, not even his Glock 17’s custom-made wooden case, and he makes the cold-eyed part-time portcullis attendant from the halfway place down the hill just about lean on the intercom-buzzer, pleading for entry and counsel—he’s in a terrible way, is the portcullis attendant’s intercom diagnosis—and rules about nonenrolled jr. players being on academies’ grounds are strict and complex, and but little Mario Incandenza sways down the steep path to the portcullis in the warm rain and interfaces with Clipperton through the bars and has the attendant hold the intercom-button down for him and personally requests that Clipperton be admitted under a special nonplay codicil to the regulations, saying the kid is truly in desperate psychic straits, Mario speaking first to Lateral Alice Moore and then to this prorector Cantrell and then to the Headmaster himself as Clipperton stares wordlessly up at the little wrought-iron racquet-heads that serve as spikes at the top of the portcullis and fencing around E.T.A., his expression so blackly haunted that even the hard-boiled attendant told some of the people back at the halfway place later that the spectral trench-coated figure had given him sobriety’s worst fantods, so far; and J. O. Incandenza finally lets Clipperton in over Cantrell’s and then Schtitt’s vehement objections when it’s established that Clipperton wants only a few private minutes to obtain the counsel of Incandenza Sr. himself—of whom I think we can presume Mario’s spoken glowingly to Clipperton—and Incandenza, while not quite strictly sober, is lucid, and has a very low melting-point of compassion for traumas connected with early success; and so up goes the portcullis, and the Clipperton and the two Incandenzas go at high noon up to an unused top-floor room in Subdorm C of East House, the structure nearest the front gate, for some sort of psycho-existential CPR-session or something—Mario has never spoken of what he got to sit in on, not even at night to Hal when Hal’s trying to go to sleep. But it’s a matter of record that at some point first E.T.A. counselor Dolores Rusk was beeped by Himself at her Winchester home and then her beep was canceled and Lateral Alice Moore was beeped and asked with due speed to get Lyle up from the weight room/sauna and over to East House ASAP, and that at some point while Lyle was delotusing from the dispenser and making his way with sideways Lateral Alice to this emergency-type huddle, at some point in this interval—in front of Dr. James O. Incandenza and a Mario whose tiny borrowed head-clamped Bolex H128 Incandenza required Clipperton to consent to having digitally record the whole crisis-conversation, to protect E.T.A. from the O.N.A.N.T.A.’s Kafkaesque rules on unregistered recipients of any sort of counsel at U.S. academies—at some point, w/ Lyle in transit, Clipperton pulls out of various pockets in his wet complicated coat an elaborately altered copy of NAJT’s biweekly ranking report, a sepia’d snapshot of some whey-faced Midwestern couple’s wedding, and the hideous blunt-barreled Glock 17 9 mm. semiautomatic, which even as both Incandenzas reach for the sky Clipperton places to his right—not left—temple, as in with his good right stick-hand, closes his eyes and scrunches up his face and blows his legitimated brains out for real and all time, eradicates his map and then some; and there’s just an ungodly subsequent mess in there, and the Incandenzas respectively stagger and totter from the room all green-gilled and red-mist-stained, and—because reports of Lyle’s appearance outside the weight room upright and walking across the grounds have spread and caused enormous excitement and student-snapshots—it’s because it was just as Lyle and L. A. Moore hit the upstairs hallway that they reeled out of the room in a miasma of cordite and ghastly mist that they’re preserved in various snapshots as resembling miners of some sort of really grisly coal.Infinite Jest
I swear to God that was only two sentences. Go search for punctuation. I’ll wait.
Meanwhile, slow progress continues on The Apprentice***!
The corridor opened up into a room. He entered and the blue flames entered with him, spread along the base of the walls, illuminating a wedge-shaped space. He had come in through the broad side. Opposite him, another archway opened onto yet more darkness. The room was empty, like an antechamber in which little time was to be spent, or where disfavored supplicants would be kept waiting in discomfort with nowhere to sit except the floor.The Apprentice
So, yeah, I should be finished with Infinite Jest some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it looks like. The new book I’m working on? That’ll take quite a while longer for me to wrap up. But I can already guarantee you it will take less time to read.
* Some people would argue that any alternate history novel is automatically science fiction. I am not one of those people. For instance, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is most definitely alternate history but, in my book, most definitely not science fiction.
** And footnotes. Sooo many footnotes. Fortunately, on the eReader, I can just tap on the footnote number to read the footnote, so I don’t have to be constantly flipping back and forth between pages.
*** I’ve decided I’m just going to keep calling it The Apprentice here until I come up with a different title for it.