Infinite Jest [NOOK Book]

Overview

A gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the Pursuit of Happiness in America set in an addicts' halfway house and a tennis academy, and featuring the most endearingly screwed-up family to come along in recent fiction, Infinite Jest explores essential questions about what entertainment is and why it has come to so dominate our lives; about how our desire for entertainment affects our need to connect with other people; and about what the pleasures we choose say about who we are. Equal parts philosophical quest and ...
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Infinite Jest

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Overview

A gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the Pursuit of Happiness in America set in an addicts' halfway house and a tennis academy, and featuring the most endearingly screwed-up family to come along in recent fiction, Infinite Jest explores essential questions about what entertainment is and why it has come to so dominate our lives; about how our desire for entertainment affects our need to connect with other people; and about what the pleasures we choose say about who we are. Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction without sacrificing for a moment its own entertainment value. It is an exuberant, uniquely American exploration of the passions that make us human - and one of those rare books that renew the idea of what a novel can do.

Set in a drug-and-alcohol addicts' halfway house and a tennis academy, this epic comedy by the author of The Girl with Curious Hair snowballs farce, drug abuse, heartbreak, advertising, tennis, philosophy, math, slapstick humor, and profound drama in a story that is never less than edge-of-your-seat compelling.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With its baroque subplots, zany political satire, morbid, cerebral humor and astonishing range of cultural references, Wallace's brilliant but somewhat bloated dirigible of a second novel after The Broom in the System will appeal to steadfast readers of Pynchon and Gaddis. But few others will have the stamina for it. Set in an absurd yet uncanny near-future, with a cast of hundreds and close to 400 footnotes, Wallace's story weaves between two surprisingly similar locales: Ennet House, a halfway-house in the Boston Suburbs, and the adjacent Enfield Tennis Academy. It is the ``Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment'' each calendar year is now subsidized by retail advertising; the U.S. and Canada have been subsumed by the Organization of North American Nations, unleashing a torrent of anti-O.N.A.N.ist terrorism by Quebecois separatists; drug problems are widespread; the Northeastern continent is a giant toxic waste dump; and CD-like ``entertainment cartridges'' are the prevalent leisure activity. The novel hinges on the dysfunctional family of E.T.A.'s founder, optical-scientist-turned-cult-filmmaker Dr. James Incandenza aka Himself, who took his life shortly after producing a mysterious film called Infinite Jest, which is supposedly so addictively entertaining as to bring about a total neural meltdown in its viewer. As Himself's estranged sons-professional football punter Orin, introverted tennis star Hal and deformed naf Mario-come to terms with his suicide and legacy, they and the residents of Ennet House become enmeshed in the machinations of the wheelchair-bound leader of a Quebecois separatist faction, who hopes to disseminate cartridges of Infinite Jest and thus shred the social fabric of O.N.A.N. With its hilarious riffs on themes like addiction, 12-step programs, technology and waste management in all its scatological implications, this tome is highly engrossing-in small doses. Yet the nebulous, resolutionless ending serves to underscore Wallace's underlying failure to find a suitable novelistic shape for his ingenious and often outrageously funny material. Feb.
Library Journal
Wallace's second novel is not for the faint-hearted or the weak-wristed. Wallace (The Girl with Curious Hair, LJ 7/89) throws everything he knows-and he knows plenty-into this river of stories. If you can stand the extreme length, ignore the footnotes, and have a bed-desk to rest this tome on, this book can be fun. Wallace sandwiches more than you'd ever want to know about a private tennis boarding school, Quebec separatists, a drug-and-alcohol addict's halfway house, potheads, and other topics-both trendy and not-in between E-mail messages, admissions reports, headlines, and other real-life documents, or pseudo-documents. Too much happens here even to begin to summarize, but the author has a wicked sense of humor and a wonderful eye for capturing the odd juxtapositions of modern life. Besides his lack of conciseness, Wallace's other main weakness is dialog: nobody talks as cleverly as most of his characters do. Distinct, idiomatic, wild, and crazy, this book is destined to have a cult following. Recommended for most fiction collections.-Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, Ind.
Sven Birkirgs
The next step in fiction....Edgy, accurate, and darkly witty....Think Beckett, think Pynchon, think Gaddis. Think. -- Atlantic Monthly
Arthur Sheppard
A virtuoso display of style....There is generous intelligence and authentic passion on every page. -- Time Magazine
From Barnes & Noble
Somewhere in the not-so-distant future, the screwed-up residents of Ennet House, a Boston halfway house for recovering addicts, and students at the Enfield Tennis Academy search for the master copy of a movie so dangerously entertaining that its viewers die in a state of catatonic bliss. Explores essential questions about what entertainment is, why we need it, and what it says about who we are. "Wallace is a superb comedian of culture." James Wood, Guardian.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316073851
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 4/13/2009
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 16,203
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1962 and raised in Illinois, where he was a regionally ranked junior tennis player. He received bachelor of arts degrees in philosophy and English from Amherst College and wrote what would become his first novel, The Broom of the System, as his senior English thesis. He received a masters of fine arts from University of Arizona in 1987 and briefly pursued graduate work in philosophy at Harvard University. His second novel, Infinite Jest, was published in 1996. Wallace taught creative writing at Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College, and published the story collections Girl with Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion, the essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Consider the Lobster. He was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers' Award, and was appointed to the Usage Panel for The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. He died in 2008. His last novel, The Pale King, was published in 2011.

Biography

Born in Ithaca, NY, and raised in Champaign, IL, David Foster Wallace grew up athletically gifted and exceptionally bright, with an avid interest in tennis, literature, philosophy, and math. He attended Amherst and graduated in 1985 with a double major in English and Philosophy. His philosophy thesis (on modal logic) won the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize. His English thesis would become his first novel, The Broom of the System. Published in 1987 during his second year of grad school at the University of Arizona, the book sold well, garnering national attention and critical praise in equal measure. Two years later, a book of short stories, Girl with Curious Hair, was published to admiring reviews.

In the early 1990s, Wallace's short fiction began to appear regularly in publications like Playboy, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker, along with excerpts from his second novel, a complex, enormously ambitious work published in 1996 as Infinite Jest. Surpassing 1,000 pages in length, the novel was hailed as a masterpiece ("[A]n entertainment so irresistibly pleasurable it renders the viewer catatonic," raved Newsweek. "[R]esourceful, hilarious, intelligent, and unique," pronounced Atlantic Monthly), and Wallace was crowned on the spot the new heavyweight champion of literary fiction.

Hyperbole aside, Infinite Jest, with its linguistic acrobatics (challenging complex clauses, coined words, etc.) and sly, self-referential footnotes, proved to be the template for a new literary style. Subversive, hip, and teeming with postmodernist irony, the book attracted a rabid cult following and exerted an influence on up-and-coming young writers that is still felt today. The scope of Wallace's achievement can be measured by the fact that one year after the publication of Infinite Jest, he was awarded the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant."

Nearly as famous for his nonfiction as for his novels and stories, Wallace produced mind-boggling essays on assignment for magazines like Harper's. In contrast to his sad, dark, disturbing fiction, these essays -- subsequently collected into such bestselling anthologies as A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (1997), Everything and More (2003), and Consider the Lobster (2007) -- were ridiculously exuberant, fairly bursting with humor, energy, and good cheer. Yet Wallace himself suffered from clinical depression most of his adult life. He was treated successfully with anti-depressants, until side effects from the drugs began to interfere with his productivity. At his doctor's suggestion, he stopped taking the medication.The depression returned, and he did not respond to any further treatment. In September of 2008, at the age of 46, he committed suicide.

Wallace's influence on contemporary literature cannot be overstated. Descended from post-war superstars like Thomas Pynchon and Don De Lillo, his style is clearly visible in the work of postmodernists like Jonathan Safran Foer and Dave Eggers. His untimely death was mourned by critics, writers, and millions of adoring fans. As author David Lipsky stated in a tribute that aired on NPR in September, 2008: "To read David Foster Wallace was to feel your eyelids pulled open."

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    1. Date of Birth:
      February 21, 1962
    2. Place of Birth:
      Ithaca, NY
    1. Date of Death:
      September 12, 2008
    2. Place of Death:
      Claremont, CA
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English & Philosophy, Amherst College, 1985;MFA, University of Arizona, 1987

First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

YEAR OF GLAD

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair. This is a cold room in University Administration, wood-walled, Remington-hung, double-windowed against the November heat, insulated from Administrative sounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. deLint and I were lately received.

I am in here.

Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoats and half-Windsors across a polished pine conference table shiny with the spidered light of an Arizona noon. These are three Deans--of Admissions, Academic Affairs, Athletic Affairs. I do not know which face belongs to whom.

I believe I appear neutral, maybe even pleasant, though I've been coached to err on the side of neutrality and not attempt what would feel to me like a pleasant expression or smile.

I have committed to crossing my legs I hope carefully, ankle on knee, hands together in the lap of my slacks. My fingers are mated into a mirrored series of what manifests, to me, as the letter X. The interview room's other personnel include: the University's Director of Composition, its varsity tennis coach, and Academy protector Mr. A. deLint. C.T. is beside me; the others sit, stand and stand, respectively, at the periphery of my focus. The tennis coach jingles pocket-change. There is something vaguely digestive about the room's odor. The high-traction sole of my complimentary Nike sneaker runs parallel to the wobbling loafer of my mother's half-brother, here in his capacity as Headmaster, sitting in the chair to what I hope is my immediate right, also facing Deans.

The Dean at left, a lean yellowish man whose fixed smile nevertheless has the impermanent quality of something stamped into uncooperative material, is a personality-type I've come lately to appreciate, the type who delays need of any response from me by relating my side of the story for me, to me. Passed a packet of computer-sheets by the shaggy lion of a Dean at center, he is speaking more or less to these pages, smiling down.

`You are Harold Incandenza, eighteen, date of secondary-school graduation approximately one month from now, attending the Enfield Tennis Academy, Enfield, Massachusetts, a boarding school, where you reside.' His reading glasses are rectangular, court-shaped, the sidelines at top and bottom. `You are, according to Coach White and Dean [unintelligible], a regionally, nationally, and continentally ranked junior tennis player, a potential O.N.A.N.C.A.A. athlete of substantial promise, recruited by Coach White via correspondence with Dr. Tavis here commencing . . . February of this year.' The top page is removed and brought around neatly to the bottom of the sheaf, at intervals. `You have been in residence at the Enfield Tennis Academy since age seven.'

I am debating whether to risk scratching the right side of my jaw, where there is a wen.

`Coach White informs our offices that he holds the Enfield Tennis Academy's program and achievements in high regard, that the University of Arizona tennis squad has profited from the prior matriculation of several former E.T.A. alumni, one of whom was one Mr. Aubrey F. deLint, who appears also to be with you here today. Coach White and his staff have given us--'

The yellow administrator's usage is on the whole undistinguished, though I have to admit he's made himself understood. The Director of Composition seems to have more than the normal number of eyebrows. The Dean at right is looking at my face a bit strangely.

Uncle Charles is saying that though he can anticipate that the Deans might be predisposed to weigh what he avers as coming from his possible appearance as a kind of cheerleader for E.T.A., he can assure the assembled Deans that all this is true, and that the Academy has presently in residence no fewer than a third of the continent's top thirty juniors, in age brackets all across the board, and that I here, who go by `Hal,' usually, am `right up there among the very cream.' Right and center Deans smile professionally; the heads of deLint and the coach incline as the Dean at left clears his throat:

`--belief that you could well make, even as a freshman, a real contribution to this University's varsity tennis program. We are pleased,' he either says or reads, removing a page, `that a competition of some major sort here has brought you down and given us the chance to sit down and chat together about your application and potential recruitment and matriculation and scholarship.'

`I've been asked to add that Hal here is seeded third, Boys' 18-and-Under Singles, in the prestigious What aBurger Southwest Junior Invitational out at the Randolph Tennis Center--' says what I infer is Athletic Affairs, his cocked head showing a freckled scalp.

`Out at Randolph Park, near the outstanding El Con Marriott,' C.T. inserts, `a venue the whole contingent's been vocal about finding absolutely top-hole thus far, which--'

`Just so, Chuck, and that according to Chuck here Hal has already justified his seed, he's reached the semifinals as of this morning's apparently impressive win, and that he'll be playing out at the Center again tomorrow, against the winner of a quarterfinal game tonight, and so will be playing tomorrow at I believe scheduled for 0830--'

`Try to get under way before the godawful heat out there. Though of course a dry heat.'

`--and has apparently already qualified for this winter's Continental Indoors, up in Edmonton, Kirk tells me--' cocking further to look up and left at the varsity coach, whose smile's teeth are radiant against a violent sunburn--'Which is something indeed.' He smiles, looking at me. `Did we get all that right Hal.'

C.T. has crossed his arms casually; their triceps' flesh is webbed with mottle in the air-conditioned sunlight. `You sure did. Bill.' He smiles. The two halves of his mustache never quite match. `And let me say if I may that Hal's excited, excited to be invited for the third year running to the Invitational again, to be back here in a community he has real affection for, to visit with your alumni and coaching staff, to have already justified his high seed in this week's not unstiff competition, to as they say still be in it without the fat woman in the Viking hat having sung, so to speak, but of course most of all to have a chance to meet you gentlemen and have a look at the facilities here. Everything here is absolutely top-slot, from what he's seen.'

There is a silence. DeLint shifts his back against the room's panelling and recenters his weight. My uncle beams and straightens a straight watchband. 62.5% of the room's faces are directed my way, pleasantly expectant. My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it. I compose what I project will be seen as a smile. I turn this way and that, slightly, sort of directing the expression to everyone in the room.

There is a new silence. The yellow Dean's eyebrows go circumflex. The two other Deans look to the Director of Composition. The tennis coach has moved to stand at the broad window, feeling at the back of his crewcut. Uncle Charles strokes the forearm above his watch. Sharp curved palm-shadows move slightly over the pine table's shine, the one head's shadow a black moon.

`Is Hal all right, Chuck?' Athletic Affairs asks. `Hal just seemed to . . . well, grimace. Is he in pain? Are you in pain, son?'

`Hal's right as rain,' smiles my uncle, soothing the air with a casual hand. `Just a bit of a let's call it maybe a facial tic, slightly, at all the adrenaline of being here on your impressive campus, justifying his seed so far without dropping a set, receiving that official written offer of not only waivers but a living allowance from Coach White here, on Pac 10 letterhead, being ready in all probability to sign a National Letter of Intent right here and now this very day, he's indicated to me.' C.T. looks to me, his look horribly mild. I do the safe thing, relaxing every muscle in my face, emptying out all expression. I stare carefully into the Kekulean knot of the middle Dean's necktie.

My silent response to the expectant silence begins to affect the air of the room, the bits of dust and sportcoat-lint stirred around by the AC's vents dancing jaggedly in the slanted plane of windowlight, the air over the table like the sparkling space just above a fresh-poured seltzer. The coach, in a slight accent neither British nor Australian, is telling C.T. that the whole application-interface process, while usually just a pleasant formality, is probably best accentuated by letting the applicant speak up for himself. Right and center Deans have inclined together in soft conference, forming a kind of tepee of skin and hair. I presume it's probably facilitate that the tennis coach mistook for accentuate, though accelerate, while clunkier than facilitate, is from a phonetic perspective more sensible, as a mistake. The Dean with the flat yellow face has leaned forward, his lips drawn back from his teeth in what I see as concern. His hands come together on the conference table's surface. His own fingers look like they mate as my own four-X series dissolves and I hold tight to the sides of my chair.

We need candidly to chat re potential problems with my application, they and I, he is beginning to say. He makes a reference to candor and its value.

`The issues my office faces with the application materials on file from you, Hal, involve some test scores.' He glances down at a colorful sheet of standardized scores in the trench his arms have made. `The Admissions staff is looking at standardized test scores from you that are, as I'm sure you know and can explain, are, shall we say ... subnormal.' I'm to explain.

It's clear that this really pretty sincere yellow Dean at left is Admissions. And surely the little aviarian figure at right is Athletics, then, because the facial creases of the shaggy middle Dean are now pursed in a kind of distanced affront, an I'm-eating-something-that-makes-me-really- appreciate-the-presence-of-whatever-I'm-drinking-along-with-it look that spells professionally Academic reservations. An uncomplicated loyalty to standards, then, at center. My uncle looks to Athletics as if puzzled. He shifts slightly in his chair.

The incongruity between Admissions's hand- and face-color is almost wild. `--verbal scores that are just quite a bit closer to zero than we're comfortable with, as against a secondary-school transcript from the institution where both your mother and her brother are administrators--' reading directly out of the sheaf inside his arms' ellipse--'that this past year, yes, has fallen off a bit, but by the word I mean "fallen off" to outstanding from three previous years of frankly incredible.'

`Off the charts.'

`Most institutions do not even have grades of A with multiple pluses after it,' says the Director of Composition, his expression impossible to interpret.

`This kind of . . . how shall I put it . . . incongruity,' Admissions says, his expression frank and concerned, `I've got to tell you sends up a red flag of potential concern during the admissions process.'

`We thus invite you to explain the appearance of incongruity if not outright shenanigans.' Students has a tiny piping voice that's absurd coming out of a face this big.

`Surely by incredible you meant very very very impressive, as opposed to literally quote "incredible," surely,' says C.T., seeming to watch the coach at the window massaging the back of his neck. The huge window gives out on nothing more than dazzling sunlight and cracked earth with heat-shimmers over it.

`Then there is before us the matter of not the required two but nine separate application essays, some of which of nearly monograph-length, each without exception being--' different sheet--'the adjective various evaluators used was quote "stellar"--'

Dir. of Comp.: `I made in my assessment deliberate use of lapidary and effete.'

`--but in areas and with titles, I'm sure you recall quite well, Hal: "Neoclassical Assumptions in Contemporary Prescriptive Grammar," "The Implications of Post-Fourier Transformations for a Holographically Mimetic Cinema," "The Emergence of Heroic Stasis in Broadcast Entertainment"--'

`"Montague Grammar and the Semantics of Physical Modality"?'

`"A Man Who Began to Suspect He Was Made of Glass"?'

`"Tertiary Symbolism in Justinian Erotica"?'

Now showing broad expanses of recessed gum. `Suffice to say that there's some frank and candid concern about the recipient of these unfortunate test scores, though perhaps explainable test scores, being these essays' sole individual author.'

`I'm not sure Hal's sure just what's being implied here,' my uncle says. The Dean at center is fingering his lapels as he interprets distasteful computed data.

`What the University is saying here is that from a strictly academic point of view there are admission problems that Hal needs to try to help us iron out. A matriculant's first role at the University is and must be as a student. We couldn't admit a student we have reason to suspect can't cut the mustard, no matter how much of an asset he might be on the field.'

`Dean Sawyer means the court, of course, Chuck,' Athletic Affairs says, head severely cocked so he's including the White person behind him in the address somehow. `Not to mention O.N.A.N.C.A.A. regulations and investigators always snuffling around for some sort of whiff of the smell of impropriety.'

The varsity tennis coach looks at his own watch.

`Assuming these board scores are accurate reflectors of true capacity in this case,' Academic Affairs says, his high voice serious and sotto, still looking at the file before him as if it were a plate of something bad, `I'll tell you right now my opinion is it wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be fair to the other applicants. Wouldn't be fair to the University community.' He looks at me. `And it'd be especially unfair to Hal himself. Admitting a boy we see as simply an athletic asset would amount to just using that boy. We're under myriad scrutiny to make sure we're not using anybody. Your board results, son, indicate that we could be accused of using you.'

Uncle Charles is asking Coach White to ask the Dean of Athletic Affairs whether the weather over scores would be as heavy if I were, say, a revenue-raising football prodigy. The familiar panic at feeling misperceived is rising, and my chest bumps and thuds. I expend energy on remaining utterly silent in my chair, empty, my eyes two great pale zeros. People have promised to get me through this.

Uncle C.T., though, has the pinched look of the cornered. His voice takes on an odd timbre when he's cornered, as if he were shouting as he receded. `Hal's grades at E.T.A., which is I should stress an Academy, not simply a camp or factory, accredited by both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the North American Sports Academy Association, it's focused on the total needs of the player and student, founded by a towering intellectual figure whom I hardly need name, here, and based by him on the rigorous Oxbridge Quadrivium-Trivium curricular model, a school fully staffed and equipped, by a fully certified staff, should show that my nephew here can cut just about any Pac 10 mustard that needs cutting, and that--'

DeLint is moving toward the tennis coach, who is shaking his head.

`--would be able to see a distinct flavor of minor-sport prejudice about this whole thing,' C.T. says, crossing and recrossing his legs as I listen, composed and staring.

The room's carbonated silence is now hostile. `I think it's time to let the actual applicant himself speak out on his own behalf,' Academic Affairs says very quietly. `This seems somehow impossible with you here, sir.'

Athletics smiles tiredly under a hand that massages the bridge of his nose. `Maybe you'd excuse us for a moment and wait outside, Chuck.'

`Coach White could accompany Mr. Tavis and his associate out to reception,' the yellow Dean says, smiling into my unfocused eyes.

`--led to believe this had all been ironed out in advance, from the--' C.T. is saying as he and deLint are shown to the door. The tennis coach extends a hypertrophied arm. Athletics says `We're all friends and colleagues here.'

This is not working out. It strikes me that EXIT signs would look to a native speaker of Latin like red-lit signs that say HE LEAVES. I would yield to the urge to bolt for the door ahead of them if I could know that bolting for the door is what the men in this room would see. DeLint is murmuring something to the tennis coach. Sounds of keyboards, phone consoles as the door is briefly opened, then firmly shut. I am alone among administrative heads.

`--offense intended to anyone,' Athletic Affairs is saying, his sportcoat tan and his necktie insigniated in tiny print--'beyond just physical abilities out there in play, which believe me we respect, want, believe me.'

`--question about it we wouldn't be so anxious to chat with you directly, see?'

`--that we've known in processing several prior applications through Coach White's office that the Enfield School is operated, however impressively, by close relations of first your brother, who I can still remember the way White's predecessor Maury Klamkin wooed that kid, so that grades' objectivity can be all too easily called into question--'

`By whomsoever's calling--N.A.A.U.P., ill-willed Pac 10 programs, O.N.A.N.C.A.A.--'

The essays are old ones, yes, but they are mine; de moi. But they are, yes, old, not quite on the application's instructed subject of Most Meaningful Educational Experience Ever. If I'd done you one from the last year, it would look to you like some sort of infant's random stabs on a keyboard, and to you, who use whomsoever as a subject. And in this new smaller company, the Director of Composition seems abruptly to have actuated, emerged as both the Alpha of the pack here and way more effeminate than he'd seemed at first, standing hip-shot with a hand on his waist, walking with a roll to his shoulders, jingling change as he pulls up his pants as he slides into the chair still warm from C.T.'s bottom, crossing his legs in a way that inclines him well into my personal space, so that I can see multiple eyebrow-tics and capillary webs in the oysters below his eyes and smell fabric-softener and the remains of a breath-mint turned sour.

`. . . a bright, solid, but very shy boy, we know about your being very shy, Kirk White's told us what your athletically built if rather stand-offish younger instructor told him,' the Director says softly, cupping what I feel to be a hand over my sportcoat's biceps (surely not), `who simply needs to swallow hard and trust and tell his side of the story to these gentlemen who bear no maliciousness none at all but are doing our jobs and trying to look out for everyone's interests at the same time.'

I can picture deLint and White sitting with their elbows on their knees in the defecatory posture of all athletes at rest, deLint staring at his huge thumbs, while C.T. in the reception area paces in a tight ellipse, speaking into his portable phone. I have been coached for this like a Don before a RICO hearing. A neutral and affectless silence. The sort of all-defensive game Schtitt used to have me play: the best defense: let everything bounce off you; do nothing. I'd tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear.

Athletics with his head out from under his wing: `--to avoid admission procedures that could be seen as primarily athletics-oriented. It could be a mess, son.'

`Bill means the appearance, not necessarily the real true facts of the matter, which you alone can fill in,' says the Director of Composition.

`--the appearance of the high athletic ranking, the subnormal scores, the over-academic essays, the incredible grades vortexing out of what could be seen as a nepotistic situation.'

The yellow Dean has leaned so far forward that his tie is going to have a horizontal dent from the table-edge, his face sallow and kindly and no-shit-whatever:

`Look here, Mr. Incandenza, Hal, please just explain to me why we couldn't be accused of using you, son. Why nobody could come and say to us, why, look here, University of Arizona, here you are using a boy for just his body, a boy so shy and withdrawn he won't speak up for himself, a jock with doctored marks and a store-bought application.'

The Brewster's-Angle light of the tabletop appears as a rose flush behind my closed lids. I cannot make myself understood. `I am not just a jock,' I say slowly. Distinctly. `My transcript for the last year might have been dickied a bit, maybe, but that was to get me over a rough spot. The grades prior to that are de moi.' My eyes are closed; the room is silent. `I cannot make myself understood, now.' I am speaking slowly and distinctly. `Call it something I ate.'

It's funny what you don't recall. Our first home, in the suburb of Weston, which I barely remember--my eldest brother Orin says he can remember being in the home's backyard with our mother in the early spring, helping the Moms till some sort of garden out of the cold yard. March or early April. The garden's area was a rough rectangle laid out with Popsicle sticks and twine. Orin was removing rocks and hard clods from the Moms's path as she worked the rented Rototiller, a wheelbarrow-shaped, gas-driven thing that roared and snorted and bucked and he remembers seemed to propel the Moms rather than vice versa, the Moms very tall and having to stoop painfully to hold on, her feet leaving drunken prints in the tilled earth. He remembers that in the middle of the tilling I came tear-assing out the door and into the backyard wearing some sort of fuzzy red Pooh-wear, crying, holding out something he said was really unpleasant-looking in my upturned palm. He says I was around five and crying and was vividly red in the cold spring air. I was saying something over and over; he couldn't make it out until our mother saw me and shut down the tiller, ears ringing, and came over to what I was holding out. This turned out to have been a large patch of mold--Orin posits from some dark corner of the Weston home's basement, which was warm from the furnace and flooded every spring. The patch itself he describes as horrific: darkly green, glossy, vaguely hirsute, speckled with parasitic fungal points of yellow, orange, red. Worse, they could see that the patch looked oddly incomplete, gnawed-on; and some of the nauseous stuff was smeared around my open mouth. `I ate this,' was what I was saying. I held the patch out to the Moms, who had her contacts out for the dirty work, and at first, bending way down, saw only her crying child, hand out, proffering; and in that most maternal of reflexes she, who feared and loathed more than anything spoilage and filth, reached to take whatever her baby held out--as in how many used heavy Kleenex, spit-back candies, wads of chewed-out gum in how many theaters, airports, backseats, tournament lounges? O. stood there, he says, hefting a cold clod, playing with the Velcro on his puffy coat, watching as the Moms, bent way down to me, hand reaching, her lowering face with its presbyopic squint, suddenly stopped, froze, beginning to I.D. what it was I held out, countenancing evidence of oral contact with same. He remembers her face as past describing. Her outstretched hand, still Rototrembling, hung in the air before mine.

`I ate this,' I said.

`Pardon me?'

O. says he can only remember (sic) saying something caustic as he limboed a crick out of his back. He says he must have felt a terrible impending anxiety. The Moms refused ever even to go into the damp basement. I had stopped crying, he remembers, and simply stood there, the size and shape of a hydrant, in red PJ's with attached feet, holding out the mold, seriously, like the report of some kind of audit.

O. says his memory diverges at this point, probably as a result of anxiety. In his first memory, the Moms's path around the yard is a broad circle of hysteria:

`God!' she calls out.

`Help! My son ate this!' she yells in Orin's second and more fleshed-out recollection, yelling it over and over, holding the speckled patch aloft in a pincer of fingers, running around and around the garden's rectangle while O. gaped at his first real sight of adult hysteria. Suburban neighbors' heads appeared in windows and over the fences, looking. O. remembers me tripping over the garden's laid-out twine, getting up dirty, crying, trying to follow.

`God! Help! My son ate this! Help!' she kept yelling, running a tight pattern just inside the square of string; and my brother Orin remembers noting how even in hysterical trauma her flight-lines were plumb, her footprints Native-American-straight, her turns, inside the ideogram of string, crisp and martial, crying `My son ate this! Help!' and lapping me twice before the memory recedes.

`My application's not bought,' I am telling them, calling into the darkness of the red cave that opens out before closed eyes. `I am not just a boy who plays tennis. I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I'm complex.

`I read,' I say. `I study and read. I bet I've read everything you've read. Don't think I haven't. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, "The library, and step on it." My instincts concerning syntax and mechanics are better than your own, I can tell, with due respect.

`But it transcends the mechanics. I'm not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you'd let me, talk and talk. Let's talk about anything. I believe the influence of Kierkegaard on Camus is underestimated. I believe Dennis Gabor may very well have been the Antichrist. I believe Hobbes is just Rousseau in a dark mirror. I believe, with Hegel, that transcendence is absorption. I could interface you guys right under the table,' I say. `I'm not just a creatus, manufactured, conditioned, bred for a function.'

I open my eyes. `Please don't think I don't care.'

I look out. Directed my way is horror. I rise from the chair. I see jowls sagging, eyebrows high on trembling foreheads, cheeks bright-white. The chair recedes below me.

`Sweet mother of Christ,' the Director says.

`I'm fine,' I tell them, standing. From the yellow Dean's expression, there's a brutal wind blowing from my direction. Academics' face has gone instantly old. Eight eyes have become blank discs that stare at whatever they see.

`Good God,' whispers Athletics.

`Please don't worry,' I say. `I can explain.' I soothe the air with a casual hand.

Both my arms are pinioned from behind by the Director of Comp., who wrestles me roughly down, on me with all his weight. I taste floor.

`What's wrong?'

I say `Nothing is wrong.'

`It's all right! I'm here!' the Director is calling into my ear.

`Get help!' cries a Dean.

My forehead is pressed into parquet I never knew could be so cold. I am arrested. I try to be perceived as limp and pliable. My face is mashed flat; Comp.'s weight makes it hard to breathe.

`Try to listen,' I say very slowly, muffled by the floor.

`What in God's name are those . . . ,' one Dean cries shrilly, `. . . those sounds?'

There are clicks of a phone console's buttons, shoes' heels moving, pivoting, a sheaf of flimsy pages falling.

`God!'

`Help!'

The door's base opens at the left periphery: a wedge of halogen hall-light, white sneakers and a scuffed Nunn Bush. `Let him up!' That's deLint.

`There is nothing wrong,' I say slowly to the floor. `I'm in here.'

I'm raised by the crutches of my underarms, shaken toward what he must see as calm by a purple-faced Director: `Get a grip, son!'

DeLint at the big man's arm: `Stop it!'

`I am not what you see and hear.'

Distant sirens. A crude half nelson. Forms at the door. A young Hispanic woman holds her palm against her mouth, looking.

`I'm not,' I say.

You have to love old-fashioned men's rooms: the citrus scent of deodorant disks in the long porcelain trough; the stalls with wooden doors in frames of cool marble; these thin sinks in rows, basins supported by rickety alphabets of exposed plumbing; mirrors over metal shelves; behind all the voices the slight sound of a ceaseless trickle, inflated by echo against wet porcelain and a cold tile floor whose mosaic pattern looks almost Islamic at this close range.

The disorder I've caused revolves all around. I've been half-dragged, still pinioned, through a loose mob of Administrative people by the Comp. Director--who appears to have thought variously that I am having a seizure (prying open my mouth to check for a throat clear of tongue), that I am somehow choking (a textbook Heimlich that left me whooping), that I am psychotically out of control (various postures and grips designed to transfer that control to him)--while about us roil deLint, trying to restrain the Director's restraint of me, the varsity tennis coach restraining deLint, my mother's half-brother speaking in rapid combinations of polysyllables to the trio of Deans, who variously gasp, wring hands, loosen neckties, waggle digits in C.T.'s face, and make pases with sheafs of now-pretty-clearly-superfluous application forms.

I am rolled over supine on the geometric tile. I am concentrating docilely on the question why U.S. restrooms always appear to us as infirmaries for public distress, the place to regain control. My head is cradled in a knelt Director's lap, which is soft, my face being swabbed with dusty-brown institutional paper towels he received from some hand out of the crowd overhead, staring with all the blankness I can summon into his jowls' small pocks, worst at the blurred jaw-line, of scarring from long-ago acne. Uncle Charles, a truly unparalleled slinger of shit, is laying down an enfilade of same, trying to mollify men who seem way more in need of a good browmopping than I.

`He's fine,' he keeps saying. `Look at him, calm as can be, lying there.'

`You didn't see what happened in there,' a hunched Dean responds through a face webbed with fingers.

`Excited, is all he gets, sometimes, an excitable kid, impressed with--'

`But the sounds he made.'

`Undescribable.'

`Like an animal.'

`Subanimalistic noises and sounds.'

`Nor let's not forget the gestures.'

`Have you ever gotten help for this boy Dr. Tavis?'

`Like some sort of animal with something in its mouth.'

`This boy is damaged.'

`Like a stick of butter being hit with a mallet.'

`A writhing animal with a knife in its eye.'

`What were you possibly about, trying to enroll this--'

`And his arms.'

`You didn't see it, Tavis. His arms were--'

`Flailing. This sort of awful reaching drumming wriggle. Waggling,' the group looking briefly at someone outside my sight trying to demonstrate something.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 179 )
Rating Distribution

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(114)

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(21)

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(18)

2 Star

(16)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 179 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2001

    I Once Was Lost

    I used to think that I'd read all the greatest books of today, and I may have been right. But from the first page to the last this stunning literary masterpiece captured my mind and held it in the vice grips of deep inner doubt, causing me to question my lifestyle, inspiring change. This book is a mental catalyst, a lightning strike in the primordial ooze of the sub conscious. Read it, he knows where you live.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 29, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Thick

    This book is thick. By that, I mean it does not really flow the way most stories do. The narrative tends to jump around in both location and time without any real cohesivness. While the author does have a great sense of humor (I laughed out loud a few times), the scattered progression of the book makes it difficult to really get into.

    I really want to finish reading this book because 1. I started it, and 2. it does have a great sense of humor, but I often find myself opting for other activities because I am just not that engrossed in the story. It does not make me want to read it.

    After about 100 pages I am putting this book on hiatus and purchasing something new. I may still go back to it someday, but if you're looking for an engrossing tale with characters to whom you can relate, I'd try something different.

    13 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2003

    utterly brilliant

    how can people claim to have trouble reading this or that it is boring, I found myself holding off trips to the bathroom and food just to get through single, lucid paragraphs that contained everything from amazing tennis writing (granted I play) and shockingly insightful looks into addiction, freedom, will, and possibility. maybe its my generation (Im 23) and its hook with postmodern sensibilities, but something about this novel truly redefines for me what storytelling can be. whatever cerebral lightweight called this Iowa Finishing School writing is probably correct, keep in mind that place also has given us Flannery OConnor and boasts Kurt Vonneget as an instructor. keep Iowa writers coming I say

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2002

    voice of a generation

    This is the real thing. Validates the vibrancy of art and literature in these modern times in a voice simultaneously full of hope and cynicism. He plays with the reader like Pynchon or Gaddis, but is not mean spirited about it. And I laughed out loud in public places while reading this beautiful book.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 18, 2012

    This is one of those rare novels to savor. Rather than reading

    This is one of those rare novels to savor. Rather than reading to
    advance through the plot, one needs to linger on the superb descriptive
    writing, the unexpected metaphors, the brilliance of language, the
    spot-on dialogue, the surreal moments, and the command of structure. If
    this isn't enough, it is often laugh out loud funny. I will agree that
    this is not the novel for everyone - it is long, it is non-sequential,
    and it could be accused of being pedantic. It is also terrifically
    rewarding; and I don't use the word loosely, a work of and from a
    genius. I purchased the book for my Nook and never were the advantages
    of an eReader better expressed. The print copy is bulky and heavy and
    David Foster Wallace uses the unconventional technique of using
    footnotes - easily accessed via the electronic links.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2000

    So good it gave me the Howling Fantoids

    This seminal work by DFW should not be passed up based on its length. Infinite Jest more than delivers. DFW inter-weaves several narratives expertly. There's more here than you would expect. Don't be intimidated by its length, you won't be disappointed.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 21, 2011

    Infinitely entertaining

    My brain is getting a workout reading this vast verbal amusement park. A perfect NOOK read because it is over 1000 pgs long and for me requires frequent ' look-ups'.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2005

    amazing... when i could get through it

    I feel like I need a dumbed down version of the book- there are parts of it that are truly amazing and had me laughing out loud of up half the night thinking- and the parts of it that I just read time again, completely lost. I think I'll stick to his short stories.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2011

    Dense and Great

    Well, that only took 7 months...Dave Eggers comments in the foreword sum up this book best: "This book is like a spaceship with no recognizable components, no rivets or bolts, no entry points, no way to take it apart. It is very shiny, and it has no discernible flaws."

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2005

    Infinite thoughts

    Mr. Wallace's text is not Gravity's Rainbow or Ulysses, but it is a testament to writing and storytelling, something often ignored these days. Infinite Jest is an attempt at an epic, one that reaches very close to achieving it. But ultimately, it never fully gets off the ground. Still, there are portions that are beautifully written and Wallace should be acknowledged for his skill

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2012

    A terrific novel!

    Don't be daunted by the reviews, the vocabulary, or the structure of the book. Do plan to read it twice (at least). Under the bleak and chilly surface, Infinite Jest is a warm story, told with compassion for the characters. It's very funny. It's hopeful but not sappy. And it's complex enough that the second reading seems to make the story fresh, as you put things together and pick up clues you'd missed the first time. I'd wanted to read it years ago, but waited because I'd heard it was a freak show and a hot mess. Finally I was too curious to resist. Don't make my mistake! You might love this book as I do now.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 15, 2011

    Tennis Anyone?

    Risking accusations of heresy fromDFW diehards, I think that this book would dampen anyone's enthusiasm for tennis (or avant garde film, for that matter). On a mmore positive note, it will increase your respect for editors because DFW either didn't have one or the poor fellow was bored senseless.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Infinite Jest

    I just finished this book last night, and I was very pleased that I read this huge book. It is a huge book and a very difficult read but it is not impossible to read. The most important thing to be when you're reading this book is to be patient. At times you will ask yourself, "Is there a point to this?" I have asked myself this question but those sections that seem out of place are sometimes the best in the book. I would defiantly recommend this book. Overall there are four words/ phrases to describe this book: tennis, drugs, Quebecois separatists in wheelchairs, and movies. Enjoy!!!!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2005

    What can I say?

    I loved it. I'm a fan of Mr. Wallace's other works too, but this one is by far my favorite. Well worth the time it took me to read it. And I don't think it's near as hard as everyone makes it out to be.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2003

    Exceptional

    One of the best books I've ever read.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 15, 2013

    This book is a long one, it was sitting on my bookshelf for almo

    This book is a long one, it was sitting on my bookshelf for almost a year before I worked up enough courage to read it. There are many points where I began to feel dumb or things that seem like a waste of time to read but overall this book is amazing. DFW is a genius as evident by this masterpiece.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 15, 2013

    I can't believe it, but after two years (off and on, obviously)

    I can't believe it, but after two years (off and on, obviously) and 1100+ pages, I really want to start over!  What an amazing book!  absolutely recommend!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2013

    There is no doubt that the book is well written and DFW has a un

    There is no doubt that the book is well written and DFW has a unique literary voice. That being said, the story is long and pointless with no cohesive plot and absolutely nothing in the way of a resolution. There were interesting parts and there were funny parts, but this is in no way a page turner. The story itself felt like a run on sentence about 3 subjects I had no idea I couldn't care less about until now. I finished it only because I started it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 3, 2012

    The 90's Personified

    This book is everything the 90's ever was or wanted to be. The twisting plot takes place in a dystopian near-future where each year has advertising rights sold on it. To keep track of all the characters would drive anyone crazy. To keep track of every plot point would take longer than actually reading the book. This book is smart, funny, angsty, and witty. It reflects the time it was written in and it holds up as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 17, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    The Jest is on You

    I read about 300 pages before I realized the jest was on the reader for trying to slog through this ridiculous book. In other words, don't bother.

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 179 Customer Reviews

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