I read 20 pages of Infinite Jest today and now I’m all caught up with the Infinite Summer reading schedule, which is to say, I’ve read up to page 232 (out of over 1,000 pages). I continue to love the experience. A lot of what I said in an earlier post remains true: there are lots of short sections that introduce us to many different characters, some of whom know and interact with each other and some of whom don’t. Everything is going to connect up with everything else eventually, I’m betting, and in a way, everything already does, if only in vague and tangential ways, such as shared themes or tropes or images.
There are a few plot threads that we return to again and again, such as the story of the students at the Enfield Tennis Academy (Hal, whom I wrote about in my earlier post is a student there), the family saga of the Incandenzas (including Hal; the adults in this family run the academy and the children attend it), and the residents of the Ennet House, a halfway house for recovering drug and alcohol addicts. The Ennet House is located right next to the academy, which is appropriate, because one of the major themes of the book is drug use and abuse, and many of the students at the academy spend their free time getting high.
And then there are other plot lines as well — a political thriller thread with two comic characters whose loyalties are nearly impossible to figure out, a couple different stories of drug dealing and violence, a really harrowing story of a deeply depressed woman, and lots more. There are also sections that don’t advance the plot much, but are informative or funny or there for some other reason, including one really great section on why video-phones failed.
I think the best way to read the book — at least for me — is to enjoy each section without getting too worried about how everything fits together and whether I’m remembering everything or not. Sometimes beginning a new section can be bewildering, but soon enough I find myself getting oriented to what’s happening and then I can enjoy it, almost like I would a really great short story.
I love the variety in this book, and not just the variety of characters and situations, but the variety of styles and points of view. Wallace takes on different voices now and then, using dialect or giving us a monologue by a particular character, or including transcripts of emails and articles and a paper that Hal wrote for school. There is just such abundance here.
The book is also laugh-out-loud funny (and I don’t usually laugh out loud at books), and also heart-wrenching in moments. And it’s really not that difficult of a read, in spite of the many characters and stories. I find it a much, much easier read than The Recognitions was.
Lots of people on the forums have said that you just have to make it through the first 200-250 pages or so, and then the stories and and ideas begin to come together more and it gets easier to read. If that’s the case, I think I’ll be doing just fine for the next 800 or so pages!