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My Infinite Summer: Doing a Puzzle Blind

infinite summerI’ve been debating how to write my Infinite Summer posts. After some deep soul-searching and contemplation, I’ve decided to think of them as a reading journal of what it’s like to try this immensely large and intimidating novel. I hope that sounds interesting to you, dear readers.

At this point, reading Infinite Jest is like trying to put together one of those puzzles where you don’t have a picture on the box of what it’s supposed to look like. Except in  the case of the Infinite Jest puzzle, when you start out you also don’t even have all the pieces. So you spend the entire puzzle assembling process finding the missing pieces while simultaneously trying to put them together without knowing what it’s even supposed to look like.

Despite how aggravating that sounds, I’m starting to enjoy the novel more. Since my last update about the infamous page 223, I’ve managed to make it to page 423, which is about 44 percent done. Yay! One thing that’s keeping me going is the reward of buying myself an ETA shirt with one of the more ridiculous player’s names on the back.

A Summary, Sort Of

I promised to write a little bit about what the book is about, which I feel like I can finally do because around page 300 things finally started to come together for me. The book takes place, primarily, at two locations. The first is Enfield Tennis Academy (ETA), a boarding school that focuses on grooming middle and high school tennis champions. The second is a halfway house for addicts just down the hill from ETA.

There are also threads of a Canadian separatist movement, psychosis, professional football, and an ominous presence called The Entertainment which I haven’t figured out yet. I really didn’t know and still don’t totally understand how this will go together, but I can see the strands starting to overlap more clearly.

One of the more unique parts of the book are the extended footnotes — about 300 pages worth.  Some are simply descriptions of what drugs a person is using, while others are extended passages long enough to be stories of their own. I just finished one footnote that was 17 pages long. Sometimes, the footnotes are inane and I get annoyed that I flipped back to read them. But other times they give you a nugget of gold that makes all of the wasted footnotes seem worth it.

What Do I Think So Far?

At this point I don’t really have an assessment of whether or not I like the book. At first I felt like I was slogging through and didn’t really look forward to reading more. Now, I’m excited to pick up the book each time because I feel like more of it is making sense.

The humor in it is too dark for me to find it totally funny. Some of it is just gross, to be honest, or so sadly absurd that I read it with a sort of detached amusement. But other parts are honestly funny, laugh out loud funny even, and I look forward to that.

My favorite footnote so far, and one part I know made me laugh out loud, was one that referenced a fictional academic article about one of the character’s films:

E.g. see Ursula Emrich-Levine (University of California-Irvine), ‘Watching Grass Grow While Being Hit Repeatedly Over The Head With a Blunt Object: Fragmentation and Stasis in James O. Incandenza’s Widower, Fun with Teeth, Zero-Gravity Tea Ceremony, and Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell,’ Art Cartridge Quarterly, vol. III, nos. 1-3, Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken.

That strikes me as hilarious, mostly in the way it pokes fun at both snooty intellectuals and snooty filmmakers in the same breath and (with the title) says exactly what I’ve felt about some things widely regarded as high art or culture. It’s scenes that capture this sense of irreverence without being too over-the-top that I enjoy so far.

So that’s where I’m at — about five weeks and 400 pages into Infinite Jest and not ready to give up yet.  I really want that t-shirt.

What’s the biggest chunkster you’ve read, and how did you motivate yourself to keep going? Would a t-shirt be enough for you? Am I ridiculous to keep pressing on with a book that, after 400 pages, I can’t say for sure that I even like?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rob Thomas July 29, 2009, 4:45 pm

    The T-shirt is a great idea! I’ll have to do that as a reward. I’ve just started to fall behind this week (I’m on page 390) but definitely enjoy the actual page-to-page experience of reading Wallace’s writing. He’s just such a purely entertaining writer — the words he uses, the jokes, the stylistic loop-de-loops of his sentences. Even if it all doesn’t click together in the end, the trip will have been worth it.

  • Rebecca Reid July 30, 2009, 6:58 am

    I completely understand the desire to keep plugging on even though you aren’t sure you like it!

    I liked The Forsyte Saga, which was my most recent 900 page epic, so I can’t say if I’d have kept going if I didn’t love it. I do hope the end is rewarding for you!

  • Michelle July 31, 2009, 1:34 am

    It sounds like it’s still worth reading. I keep seeing it in the library. I’ve always thought it would be too long and too complicated for me to read, ever. But now I want to read it just for the footnotes and these wonderful sentences that pop up.

    Largest chunkster I’ve read was A Suitable Boy and not once did it ever feel like a chore.

  • softdrink August 5, 2009, 10:09 pm

    I just finished Owen Meany, which wasn’t anything that knocked my socks off. But the group aspect of the read kept me going and made me appreciate the book (as opposed to getting fed up and chucking it across the room).

    So no, I don’t think it’s ridiculous that you’re still reading it.