Teaser Tuesday: Finite Jest

So I finished Infinite Jest, exactly when my reader estimated I would*. And thus we see that the jest is not infinite**.

So I mentioned in the previous Teaser Tuesday that it took me a while to get used to the style of Infinite Jest. What I should have said was styles, because it’s got a bunch of them. These range from newspaper-style clippings to stream-of-consciousness to Q&A sessions where the Qs are obfuscated so you only see the As to blends of past and present tense to vernaculars that I wouldn’t even try to explain. But what it doesn’t have is an ending.

The floor came up slowly. Bobby C’s squat face looked almost pretty, tragic, half lit by the window, tucked up under Gately’s spinning shoulder. Gately felt less high than disembodied. It was obscenely pleasant. His head left his shoulders. Gene and Linda were both screaming. The cartridge with the held-open eyes and dropper had been the one about ultraviolence and sadism. A favorite of Kite. Gately thinks sadism is pronounced ‘saddism.’ The last rotating sight was the chinks coming back through the door, holding big shiny squares of the room. As the floor wafted up and C’s grip finally gave, the last thing Gately saw was an Oriental bearing down with the held square and he looked into the square and saw clearly a reflection of his own big square pale head with its eyes closing as the floor finally pounced. And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.

Infinite Jest

That’s the end of the last paragraph of Infinite Jest (hundreds of pages of footnotes excepted) and it’s not the least bit spoilery, taking place, as it does, some unspecified time prior to the beginning of Infinite Jest, and revealing nothing about the fates of any of the characters (although it does contain a nicely oblique yet highly appropriate reference to A Clockwork Orange***). My saying that the book lacks an ending isn’t a criticism, really—in fact, it’s pretty much what I expected—and there’s plenty of analysis out there about what the ending really is, and means, if one cares to look for it. (Which I did, but which I’m not going to get into here, because that would be spoilery.) Infinite Jest breaks so many other commandments of fiction, it’s no surprise that it breaks the one that says Thou Shalt Include an Ending.

Meanwhile, speaking of books without endings, I’ve been kind of stuck for a while on The Apprentice, having written myself into a corner that I wasn’t sure how to get out of. (This is a thing that can happen when you don’t plan your novels out in advance, although, as I noted a while back, the one time I tried to outline an entire book—that would be for A Flock of Crows is Called a Murder—the finished product bore no resemblance to the outline, leading me to conclude that, for me, outlining is a waste of time.) I think I’ve figured out a way forward, although in the process I’ve added another item to the growing list of unanswered plot questions that I’ll have to resolve before the book is over.

Something touched his shoulder and he started, pushing it away; but then he heard a voice say, “It’s all right. You’re at the top of the tower.”

“I know.” Then: “But how did I get here?”

“After you cast me up through the opening, the brick carried you into the wall and you fell,” she said. “I watched you disappear down the shaft. And then …”

“And then what?”

“And then you fell in from the opening above the sphere,” she said, pointing upwards. “You crashed into it, and through it, and it deflected you so you landed there. And you looked like … that.”

“What do you mean? What do I look like?” When she didn’t answer, he held his hands in front of his face, but they were just hands. He turned over and fumbled one of the facets into his grip, then held it up against the wall, making of it a crude, dim mirror, in which he was surprised to see a translucent image of his own face looking back at him, battered and cut and swollen like a tough after a tavern brawl.

It had not been so long since he had been in his own body—a matter of days—yet it was like returning to familiar apartments abandoned long ago. He touched his nose, his lips, the lumps, the bruises. He ran his finger along the cuts. The blood was dried, the wounds scabbed; they had been inflicted some time ago, apparently. Long enough for the wounds to begin to heal. And, therefore, not when he had crashed through the sphere. “How long was it after I fell into the shaft that I fell through the ceiling?”

“I have no timepiece, my lord,” she said.


“Not long. I had yet to catch my breath.”

The Apprentice

Incidentally, I was just looking at the total word count for the new book, and it stands at about 89,000 words; I think it was about 60,000 when I picked it up again, ten years or so after putting it aside to get the old back catalog whipped into shape and published. My books typically come out at around 120,000 words or so, which suggests I’m like two-thirds of the way finished with The Apprentice. So I guess at some point I’d better start trying to figure out how I’m going to wrap it up, since, not being David Foster Wallace, I kind of do need to have an ending. Although I’m certainly not above leaving a few threads dangling for me to pull on in those sequels I never write …

Anyway, I’m probably going to take a little break from The Apprentice and go back to daily posts over at The Oceanside Animals blog for a while. After all it’s been ten straight years of editing―rewriting, basically―all my old novels (Long Before Dawn through Father’s Books), and it’s starting to feel a little bit like a slog, so I think I could maybe use a vacation from the “serious” writing. That doesn’t mean no Teaser Tuesdays or descriptions of how long it takes bad movies to put my wife to sleep, of course. So stick around for stuff like that here; and when I eventually do get started on The Apprentice again, you’ll be the first to know!

* This post having been scheduled in advance, as they usually are, I actually finished the book on December 8th; my reader estimated I would finish it on December 7th.
** As demonstrated by Yorick. Or rather, Yorick’s skull.
*** I don’t want to re-watch that scene in A Clockwork Orange and you can’t make me.

2 thoughts on “Teaser Tuesday: Finite Jest

  1. A vacation from serious writing may be just what you need. I’m personally not a fan of things without endings. I’ve watched films that abruptly end and you’re left there thinking ‘what the f..’ as the credits roll and you expect at least another half an hour of screen time. As for books, it can be interesting to have a ‘cliffhanger’ sometimes or an ending that can be individually interpreted by the reader, but on the whole I prefer a tidier finish. I’ve read about writers who have their own styles for constructing a book, some that do it totally free style with literally just the two sentence gist of what it’ll be about, and others who really plan out the structure thoroughly first. I can’t imagine writing anything without a full skeleton, I really don’t have the talent for that. I’m sure you can wrangle with the ending though and get yourself out of that corner because you do have the talent for it. x

    Liked by 2 people

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