By Ezra Klein
Infinite Summer correctly calls us out for not posting lately. So here’s my post: This was supposed to be fun. It’s right there in the name of the blog. But I’m not having much fun. I’m somewhat past page 500 now — 538, actually, and if I were DFW I’d have put that in a footnote even though that would have annoyed you — and am enjoying the book more than when I was at 400, and more than I was at 300, and more than when I was at 200. It’s getting better, richer, deeper. I care more for the characters. I’ve come to anticipate Don Gately’s every appearance, and I really love the perspective on Alcoholics Anonymous and the sensations of addiction.
But my enjoyment of the book is not outpacing my growing frustration with it. I ignore most of the footnotes. If you want to know why I ignore most of the footnotes, check out footnote 216. Yeah, fuck you too, David. Things are happening, which is a distinct improvement on things not happening. But the things that are happening aren’t really happening in the confines of a discernible plot. Rather, they are happening in the service of beginning to bring together a discernible plot. That’s fine on page 200. We’re on page 500. When I was a teenager, I remember reading Maxim’s interviews with actresses and supermodels of various kinds. A standard question for them was “can ‘it’ ever go on too long” As you might have guessed, “it” meant sex. And the answer was often “yes.” That’s sort of how I feel about IJ at this point. Enjoying the journey is important, but the reason people don’t always take the scenic route is that it takes too damn long.
At the end of the day, though, it’s not DFW I’m mad. It’s me. It’s not that I don’t want to finish Infinite Jest. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading Infinite Jest. It’s that I don’t have time for Infinite Jest. But this is not a book that takes the opportunity cost of the reader seriously. In my other life, I write 15 blog posts a day and a weekly interview column and a twice-monthly food column. I need to read books on the Federal Reserve and papers about obesity and CBO scores. I don’t want to be the sort of person who doesn’t have the time to read a long and serious and difficult novel. But I am that sort of person. And it is not as if Infinite Jest richly rewards every sentence read or page finishing. It is not taut and there is little forward motion. I can’t shake the feeling that DFW is wasting a lot of my time. But at this point, I can’t tell which bits are actually unnecessary, and which just feel that way.
Will I give up? Probably not. I’ve sunk too much into this book. I have too much nagging anxiety over the fate of Hal Incandenza. I haven’t heard from Orin in awhile, and I want to know Gately’s role. But I’ve not been convinced that Infinite Jest is a truly great book. It is brilliant, but it is self-indulgent and petulant and difficult in the way brilliant people often are. It seems seduced by its own intelligence and talent, and feels to me like it’s reliant on readers who want to be the sort of people who have read Infinite Jest more than readers who want to keep reading Infinite Jest and so simply continue until it’s done. That, after all, is why we’re in this book group: Because it’s a book that people legendarily don’t finish. At page 538, I understand full well why people don’t finish it. Without Infinite Summer, there is no way I’d finish Infinite Jest. But I am not without Infinite Summer, and I will persevere.
How are the rest of you doing?