Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Things I Remember About Infinite Jest

I first heard about David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest from the 1996 profile in Details.  (I used to subscribe to Details for some reason; I’m not sure why.)  I didn’t have a TV then, so of course I ran to the bookstore, bought the hardcover, and forced myself to read at least 50 pages a day over the next few weeks and get through the whole thing.  And I did, and it was awesome.

And now it’s 16 years later, and I’m trying to start another book, and whenever I ask myself, “what the hell do I want to write?” of course IJ is on the short list.  And I think I should re-read it.  And I bought it on the Kindle, because one of my chief complaints about the book was that at the time, I lived in a tiny 100-some square foot studio apartment with no furniture, and slept on a twin mattress on the floor, and the only way I could ergonomically handle that big chunk of dead tree was to lay on my side with the book on the floor, and completely fuck up my neck and back twisting around to look at the pages.  And of course, I have not re-read it since, because I would have to invest a month of time into it, and I can barely focus long enough to type 140 characters at once.

But I keep trying to think, what the hell do I remember from that book?  So here’s the list.  It’s probably filled with spoilers, so you’ve been warned.

  1. Lots of end notes, but you already knew that.
  2. The one guy was a pro football player, and was a really shitty player on his college football team, but he knew about tennis and one day when he was pissed off, he kicked a football like a tennis ball some insane number of feet, and that led to a career in the NFL.
  3. I knew nothing about the NFL at the time, and was not sure if there was a team called the Arizona Cardinals.  (This was before wikipedia.)
  4. The guy shaved against the grain, like his dad taught him, which was apparently wrong, but I did the same thing and wondered if I was going to somehow give myself some incurable skin disease.
  5. The one girl with the messed-up face was using some toothpaste that was supposed to rebuild your enamel.  Hers was messed up from smoking crack; my teeth were pretty much totaled at that point from drinking a six-pack of Coke every day, and I was in the middle of getting everything restored, and kept thinking about trying to find some similar product.
  6. There was a big discussion about pot being physically addictive in some small percentage of people, and I remember having a similar argument with someone at work once.
  7. A guy killed himself by putting his head in a microwave oven.  He accomplished this by cutting a hole in the door so he could stick his head in it while it was closed.  Shortly after I read this, my microwave oven died and I freaked the fuck out, convinced the coincidence was somehow related.  (And also because I had this thing of Hamburger Helper cooking in it, and you can’t really eat that shit cold and uncooked, and putting it on the stove was beyond my skill level, so I drove to Target and bought a new one at nine at night.)
  8. The part of the story about how that girl ended up with a messed-up face was not explained right off the bat, which I realize is something you do to pull the reader into continuing with the story, but every time this happened in the book, I was convinced I’d somehow missed that part of the backstory by skimming over it, and would go back and re-read, searching for answers, something that made the book take far longer for me to read.  (I am in no way criticizing DFW’s plotting and foreshadowing ability and/or decisions; I’m just saying I’m a poor reader.)
  9. I was going through a very significant depression in the fall of 1996, and the way DFW described the various depressed people greatly disturbed me, mostly because his descriptions were so goddamn accurate, and I greatly felt like I’d end up like one of them.
  10. I thought the ending was the most unresolved ending in the history of literature.

And that’s it.  I do not remember anything else.  So yeah, I need to re-read it.