Inkling Book Review: Infinite Jest

Good grief, I’m not entirely sure where to even start when the thought of being asked to describe this novel enters the fray. Infinite Jest was unlike any other literary composition I’ve read in the past, reading this made me feel like I was fighting Goliath with no weapons; it felt pretty daunting and quite exhausting at times. Usually I can breeze through a 700-800-page novel in about 2 or 3 weeks with little to no hiccups. But my copy of Infinite Jest, which clocks in at 981 pages (1079 if you also count the footnotes), took me nearly 3 months just to finish, and many more months just to let all my thoughts and feelings regarding this book to fully coalesce. Even after completing Infinite Jest, there is probably still a lot of hidden messages or themes that I might not even be able to scratch upon the surface in this review in a clear and coherent manner, so forgive me if this comes off as a bit scatterbrained.

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While most English teachers (and readers in general) would probably suggest for you to avoid wiki pages or secondary online sites as a way to supplement your sense of understanding when reading any novel, I think Infinite Jest is one of the rare occasions where these supplementary aids can actually help out quite a bit as you read. David Foster Wallace instills extremely long and verbose sentence structures that you probably wouldn’t hear in most face to face conversations during real life scenarios. He also uses very beguiling and esoteric choice of words throughout this novel such as, adipose, effluvium, festschrift, hypercapnia, and synecdoche. So, I guess what I could say as a suggestion for those potentially interested in reading this novel is to be prepared for a challenge, regardless of whether or not you read a lot of books. I feel like most authors these days’ scale back on their full vision in order to release a novel that’s both enthralling yet reader friendly at the same time, Infinite Jest is not that kind of book. While there definitely were moments where I truly thought that this was a moving piece of literature, there were also times where I honestly wanted to rage quit (give up) and throw this gargantuan tome across the room.

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As for what this novel is mainly centered on, I’m sort of at a loss of words on what to say without sounding like an incompetent rambler (I probably sound like one already). Infinite Jest is set in a dystopian future where dates in time are no longer chronicled by years but by current trends and corporate sponsors. Some examples are, “Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster” and “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment”, which is where most of this novel takes place in. The overarching narratives are told in a nonsequential order, and mainly focuses on two separate settings: a tennis academy that grooms junior tennis players to become professional stars in the future called Enfield Tennis Academy, and a rehabilitation center for alcohol and drug addicts called Ennet House. This book has a wide array of characters, all of which are beautifully characterized, and they are each yearning for self-acceptance and some form of sanctuary through various forms of entertainment (primarily drugs). One centers around a confidential organization that’s trying to find a secret film tape that basically leaves anyone who watches it permanently catatonic, another vignette shows people who religiously watch TV shows and listen to radio programs at the cost of severing bonds with close family members, one storyline focuses on drug addicts struggling to readapt to society, and another shows a tennis prodigy succumbing to the mortifying effects of drug addiction.

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Another aspect of Infinite Jest that I might have earlier talked about in this review but would still like to reiterate some more is the sheer scale of this book. This is not only just 1000+ pages in terms of overall length, you also need to take into account the teeny tiny font of the words in this novel, I’m not joking when I say that almost every page is literally crammed with words. At times it felt like I was reading a collection of numerous encyclopedias haphazardly crammed into one book. Here’s a picture to give you guys a clear idea of the scope and verbosity of this literary piece.

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All in all, if you enter this novel with the hopes of experiencing a work that’s both unambiguous and emotionally compelling at all times, then I’d kindly say that this isn’t the book for you. But, if you are looking for a challenge, and willing to endure vexing subject matters that’s told in an immensely complex and loquacious style, you might walk away with a new outlook on literature as a medium whether or not you enjoy it.

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