I’m sitting at my desk, writing this review with my worn-out copy of “Infinite Jest” lying center-left of my vision; I do this with the hope that by merely seeing this mammoth, in size and scope, piece of post-modern literature, it will recall in my mind all of the things I learned, loved, and hated about it. We’ll see if I am right, in the end.
Had there been no such thing as the Infinite Summer, I probably would never have finished, let alone picked up, this beast of a novel. The ‘program’ is quite simple: you begin reading I.J. on June 21st and you finish it on or before September 21st. That’s three months and 1,076 pages worth of exercising your mind. I did it. Now it’s time for the Ice Cream Social I was promised by my coworker who is also reading I.J.
Any attempt to explain what happens is rather futile, as one thing always needs an explanation, almost as if it was an endnote—there were 388 of them. Nonetheless, the story is loosely focused around a disturbingly fucked-up family at a tennis academy (Enfield Tennis Academy, or E.T.A.) and an even more disturbingly fucked-up cast of characters at The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House (sic). The setting is an almost (what I would call) post-apocalyptic North America. Canada, America, and Mexico merged to become the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.) There are no longer numerical calendar years, but rather, corporate sponsored years, such as: the Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad and the Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office, Or Mobile (sic). A lounge singer has become the President. New England is now a wasteland, and was emperialized to Canada—it is called the “Great Concavity” or the “Great Convexity”, depending on which side is referencing the land area. The street parking laws change every night at midnight, resulting in car owners scrambling to their cars to park them on the other side of the street. It’s an overall absurd mess, and Wallace details it perfectly, albeit exhaustively.
One thing that DFW foresaw (perfectly) was in his description of the rise and immediate fall of an emerging/evolving technology. The telephone was seen as a way that people could easily distract themselves without the caller on the other end ever finding out. So people created, in essence, video-phones. This made people focus and pay attention, but they soon discovered that they did not look the way they wanted to on the phone. So the technology was updated to ‘enhance’ the caller’s visual aesthetic. This evolved into a beautified still image that resembled the likes of a supermodel rather than the actual caller. This elicited a return to the traditional non-visual telephone. Do we not see that very thing happening today? Look at most photos online; are they not (almost always) staged and unnatural?
Finally, the worst part of the book was that at some point R. Limbaugh (never explicitly mentioned as ‘Rush’) was the president. The best part of the book comes on page 929: “The door’s got a big poster of R. Limbaugh on it, from before the assassination.” People have written their Ph.D dissertations on this novel, so there's not much else I can say to its credit that has not already been exhaustively explored. Time for bigger...err...smaller and better things.