“Sometimes excess isn’t enough.” –some anonymous Springfield reader
The Years of Humble Beginnings
A couple years ago, somehow I stumbled on this site and realized, very quickly, what a tremendous opportunity it presented. A chance to catalog my library my way. How nice for me. Even better, a chance to rate books, the ones I loved and the ones I liked less. Oh. Oh! And there were people here, names that kept popping up when I read reviews of books I’d loved. So I did what I imagined any intelligent person would do—I started stalking their reviews. Checking to see where consensus occurred. I even started Liking their reviews—taking that initial plunge into making my humble presence known. Lo and behold, people started asking to be my Friend. My Friend! Yes, gladly, you bet—couldn’t get enough of them. Smart people. Funny people. People who knew each other. Relatively quickly, I found myself among the people who’d most impressed me to begin with. I was loving this place. It felt like home. The only social networking site I had any interest in—a site for readers. Which, of course, led me to the Gang of 59.
The Gang of 59
Who is this Gang of 59? Well, sir, ma’am, some of the brightest people on GR, some of the people whose opinions matter most to me—people whose recommendations, more often than not, have led me to purchase and frequently enjoy books I might not otherwise have found my way to. 59 readers who’ve friended me or whose reviews I follow. 59 people who gave Infinite Jest 4 or 5 stars. 59 who rated the title highly, and of whom, many had written glowing reviews—not only glowing, but smart, often witty, thoughtful, heartfelt, beautiful, impressive reviews. The Gang of 59 was actually the Gang of 14 when I first acquired IJ; I know this because I affixed a sticky-note to the cover to use in prioritizing my reading—and this one was Up There, nothing came close, this was the one I’d read next! Of course, being me, Next meant almost two years later, over a hundred other titles read first, and after signing up for a joint group read, I actually started it.
The (What Felt Like a) Year of Reading Infinite Jest
So I read. Interesting choices with regard to the subsidized calendar years. Hal Incandenza won me over immediately. And I read. Okay, jumps around a lot, that’s ok, events are occurring in the same time frames, but there aren’t many of them, and a lot of paper is dedicated to long scenes which seemed too long, and okay, the footnotes are an interesting ploy, but they’re beginning to wear thin. And I read more, and more. I thought: the magic is rather slow in the coming; people had predicted Aha! moments that didn’t materialize. I began to not anticipate an ending, but rather to dread it. I began thinking: Infinite Jest, huh—joke’s on me? Reading while doing a slow burn. All the talk of the novel’s humor, for me, became: there’s another one of those scenes/statements/moments that everyone else probably think was really funny; insert laugh track here.
The Year of the Interrogatory ParagraphSo what happened? How is it that my reading experience differed so dramatically from the Gang? Why do I have to be among the 7 people (friends and those I follow) who weren’t impressed with the novel and gave it only 2 or 3 stars? What’s wrong with me?
The Year I Didn’t Laugh Enüff
As mentioned, the humor, by and large, didn’t register. I recognized it. I kept thinking: there it is, here’s another one, I guess this is one—that sorta thing. I found many places that had to be the occurrences that I’d expected in some sort of laugh-fest abundance. Instead, the few places where I really did laugh, and laugh out loud, were sight gags (e.g. the dark tunnel, kids with flashlights, and the moment when they were asked some Who? question and all the beams of light pointed toward the ceiling) or the very funny forehead/windowpane scene. But most of the humorous just rolled by like wheelchairs. I should mention, I suppose, that I typically don’t find comedians funny, and I’m miserable on those rare occasions when friends are going to comedy clubs and I’m compelled to go along. So (or as the novel relentlessly says “So but” which annoys the hell outta me, much like all the “and but”s and, particularly, the “and so but”s), the humor may have been abundant, but it wasn’t particularly funny, for my taste (god, I love that phrase, one that Wood uses frequently in his discussions of DFW on YouTube).
The Year of the Foot, Noted
The footnotes quickly became an additional source of annoyance. They boil down to two types: the true/real (drug’s chemical names, the laboratories that produce them, their effects/side effects) and those that actually relate to the story, either incidentally or actually by moving the story along. All too quickly, the footnotes that did relate to the story became fictional relics—something DFW just couldn’t turn loose of; they could have been woven into the story (everything else was). It was almost as though some existed as notes intended for inclusion until some editor said You’ve got two weeks to wind this thing up, and footnotes seemed the only way to include the various pieces. To give those notes credibility, the inclusion of the True/Real notes leant some relevance. For me, they added to the bloat. Reading the novel on the Kindle made jumping back and forth pretty easy. What it couldn’t add, the Kindle (don’t you love apposition? I hope so if you’re planning on reading IJ as it’s loaded with it, apposition) was the sense that they mattered.The Year of Excessive Excess
So what else bugs you? (I kept asking myself) Well, the relentless, tedious, overdone, badgered, tiresome, chronic, over-use of free indirect style. Those moments that could (should?) have been used to reinforce or make a point, but instead droned on and on reinforcing points already made. Particularly in the case of French Canadian Marathe, he of limited ESL (English as a Second Language). Marathe’s language challenge could have been established and abandoned. Instead, we’re treated to: “time of his sitting,” “shine of the shoes,” “His Blue Jeans of Levi #501,” “hand of privacy,” “face for poker,” “no bolt of death for locking,” “folder of Manilla,” “seat of him,” “patient of treatment,” “figure of medical authority,” “the white-suiting forces.” Need I go on? Okay: “the fight of nausea of the stomach,” “papers of identity,” “expressed surprise of the face,” “hôpital of grave nature .” I’ll stop. After any given Marathe section, I wanted to slink off to my chair of reclining in the room of my reading and bob on a whopper of Hope.
The Year of Can You Be Any More Petty?
Yes, I believe I can. How about all those compound possessives? “Madame Psychosis’s plate’s…” “older brother’s doubles partner’s…” “window sill’s ventilator’s…” “wraith’s life’s end.”
The Year of the Postmodern Ending
The Year of Glad, or At Least He’s Finally Winding Down
I asked myself if I’d have felt differently about IJ had it been written by a South American, or a Spaniard, or translated from any other language. I went to the South American, Bolaño, and found mention of DFW as a topic of conversation with Rodrigo Fresán, summed up, in RB’s words, as, “David Lynch and the prolixity of David Foster Wallace.” I reread sections of How Fiction Works for Wood’s take on Wallace’s use of language. I reached for The Irresponsible Self to reread Wood’s essay “Hysterical Realism,” before deciding Screw it, I just want this all behind me. Now that it’s all said and done, I just want to reach for something I can be a little more confident of loving, maybe even something beautiful, maybe only anything else.
And for the record, I still believe I have the smartest, funniest, best-read, and most-coveted Friends on GR, and I stalk the reviews of a helluva bunch as well.
(Cheeses, Puma, for someone who just wants to put this behind him, you sure have a way of dragging this out) As interesting as the Gang of 59, when supplemented by Friends and the Followed who've marked this book To Read, is a rather interesting little non-list, conspicuous in their lack of interest, almost as if they know better.