“Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace


I did it! I’m done. I used my stacation last month to push on to the end of Infinite Jest. By the middle of the book, I found the weekly page goals restrictive; I couldn’t wait to read on and see what happened.

A frequent question of readers during Infinite Summer has been, “What’s it about?” I’m not sure it’s possible, or desirable, to capture this complex 981-page book with its 98 pages of endnotes simply. That hasn’t stopped me and others from trying, though.

If I made a list, it would include: junior tennis, addiction, recovery, parent/child relationships, Hamlet, math, philosophy, interpersonal relationships, and home entertainment.

In a sentence, I’d say it’s about trying to find connection in a world geared toward solitary entertainment, loosely based on Hamlet, using drugs and junior tennis as metaphors with two young men, Hal Incandenza and Don Gately, struggling to make sense of it all.

Infinite Jest begins:

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair. This is a cold room in University Administration, wood-walled, Remington-hung, double-windowed again the November heat, insulated from Administrative sounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. deLint and I were lately received.

I am in here.

Wallace begins his novel by answering the opening question of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Who’s there?”

Hal Incandenza answers, “I am.”

This is a complex, challenging novel. By the end, I still had questions. I also had the urge to re-read it from the beginning, which is congruent with a critical element of the novel, an entertainment so seductive that, once seen, incites viewers only to want to watch it again and again. David Foster Wallace has replicated his own fictive creation. I am impressed and even awed by the skill required for such a thing.

Infinite Jest is also sad, funny and tremendously involving. I loved the time I spent with this novel and these characters. I was sorry when it ended, as evidenced by my urge to go back to the beginning and start all over again. The book is not easy, but it’s well worth the time, effort and weight lifting involved in reading it. I continue to ponder its questions about how we relate to one another, to entertainment, and to things we’re drawn to that hurt us.

I’m very grateful to the folks at Infinite Summer for coming up with this challenge, which gave me the incentive to finally tackle this behemoth, which sat on my shelf for a decade. If you haven’t, I encourage you to do so. If you’ve tried and stopped, I encourage you to try again, and persevere. This is a great book, in both senses of the phrase.

3 Responses to ““Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace”

  1. v Says:

    A worthy achievement, and one I have yet to achieve. I tip my hat to you.

  2. Isabella Says:

    Congratulations! I finished about a week ago. What an amazing book! And what a great way it was to read it!

  3. Isabella Says:

    Hi! I emailed you further about IJ last week. I mention it here because my address sometimes gets filtered as spam, so keep a look out. Best,