I told my sister that I had started Infinite Jest; her response: "Prepare to have no life for the next two weeks."
How right she was. The prose is completely engrossing; my attention rapt, Wallace 'has' me. Akin to losing oneself in the magnificence of nature, or the painterly virtuosity of Gericault, or the conceptual elegance of Barnett Neumann, the experience of Infinite Jest is one of near-mystical transcendence. Completely sensual, the text engages the visceral mind, recalling imagery containing our collective memories of embodiment.
"The same small breezes make the rotted palms along the condominium complex's stone walls rustle and click, and a couple of fronds detach and spiral down, hitting the deck with a slap. All the plants out here are malevolent, heavy and sharp. The parts of the palms above the fronds are tufted in sick stuff like coconut-hair. Roaches and other things live in the trees. Rats, maybe. Loathsome high-altitude critters of all kinds. All the plants either spiny or meaty. Cacti in queer tortured shapes. The tops of the palms like Rod Stewart's hair, from days gone by." (44)
"These worst mornings with cold floors and hot windows and merciless light--the soul's certainty that the day will have to be not traversed but sort of climbed, vertically, and then that going to sleep again at the end of it will be like falling, again, off something tall and sheer." (46)
Aside from this verbal virtuosity, the "truth nugget" abounds in Wallace's work. Two examples hit me this morning, one about the experience of loss, the other the experience of American culture.
'How come the Moms never cried when Himself passed away? I cried, and you, even C.T. cried. I saw him personally cry.'
'You listened to Tosca over and over and cried and said you were sad. We all were.'
Hey Hal, did the Moms seem like she got happier after Himself passed away, to you?'
'It seems like she got happier. She seems even taller. She stopped travelling everywhere all the time for this and that thing. The corporate grammar thing. The library-protest thing.'
'Now she never goes anywhere, Boo. Now she's got the Headmaster's House and her office and the tunnel in between, and never leaves the grounds. She's a worse workaholic than she ever was. And more obsessive-compulsive. hen's the last time you saw a a dust-mote in that house?'
'Now she's just an agoraphobic workaholic and obsessive-compulsive. This strikes you as happification?'
'Her eyes are better. They don't seem as sunk in. They look better. She laughs at C.T. way more than she laughed at Himself. She laughs from lower down inside. She laughs more. Her jokes she tells are better ones than yours, even now, a lot of the time.'
'How come she never got sad?'
She did get sad, Booboo. She just got sad in her way instead of yours and mine. She got sad, I'm pretty sure.'
'You remember how the staff lowered the flag to half-mast out front by the portcullis here after it happened? Do you remember that? And it goes to half-mast every year at Convocation? Remember the flag Boo?'
'Don't cry, Booboo. Remember the flag only halfway up the pole? Booboo, there are two ways to lower a flag to half-mast. Are you listening? Because no shit I really have to sleep here in a second. So listen--one way to lower the flag to half-mast is just to lower the flag. There's another way though. You can also just raise the pole. You can raise the pole to like twice its original height. You get me? You understand what I mean, Mario?'
'She's plenty sad, I bet.' (42)
And the second, on the rampant escapism in American culture:
"American experience seems to suggest that people are virtually unlimited in their need to give themselves away, on various levels." (53)