Since barrels of academic/Internet ink have already been spilled in discussion of Infinite Jest, I’ll keep it brief. This is a long book, and many sections of it are damn difficult to read. It also doesn’t really make much sense until you are well over 300 pages in, which is definitely a problem for some people. But I’m not a fan of a lot of the popular narrative that seems to have risen up around this book, the narrative that frames reading the damn thing as if it were some sort of feat of athletic prowess, trained and sweat and bled for. It’s just a damn book. It’s a great book and it’s going to take your full attention, but for Chrissake it’s not a goddamn marathon.
It’s also the nearest thing to a perfectly unique narrative voice that has come into existence in the past 30 years. The fact that Wallace manages this without it coming across as hopelessly affected is damn impressive, and the fact that this voice not only works in such a massive piece of wide-cast prose, but is the very thing that ties it all together… that’s another step up. I struggle to classify what exactly the novel is, but I can’t even decide where it stands in relation to a defined for like magical realism (Infinite Jest is nothing like magical realism except for the ways it is like magical realism). I’ve got no faith in my abilities to describe or classify.
Which brings me to the big questions -would I recommend this book to a friend? I certainly loved reading it, especially once I hit my stride. If you are a person who loves writing, who loves words and the interesting things people do with them, and if you are a patient person, I strongly believe that you too might also enjoy this book. There’s certainly nothing else out there quite like it. But can I recommend it? I’m still not sure. And I think some degree of intrinsic motivation must exist on the part of the reader, or they’ll never get through those first 300 pages. But goddamn, it’s worth getting through those first 300 pages.