…about waiting until the 21st to post, having finished the book yesterday. I enjoyed it to the end, although I started to resent it about three weeks ago, not because the quality flagged (it didn’t) but because my stack of unread books began to reach truly frightening heights. Getting through all 1,079 pages (1,096, really, because when you finish you have to then go back and re-read the first 17 pages, which are the last chronologically and contain several crucial bits of information vis as vis the fate of some important characters, in particular Don Gately) requires, psychologically, something akin to the “One Day at a Time” mentality that’s key to successfully navigating A.A., to wit Joelle Van Dyne on her previous failed attempts to kick crack cocaine:
“Did you ever hear of this fellow Evel Knievel? This motorcycle jumper? What I used to do, I’d throw away the pipe and shake my fist at the sky and say As God is my fucking witness NEVER AGAIN, as of this minute right here I QUIT FOR ALL TIME. And I’d bunker up all white-knuckled and stay straight. And count the days. I was proud of each day I stayed off. Each day seemed evidence of something, and I counted them. I’d add them up. Line them up end to end. You know? And soon it would get…improbable. As if each day was a car Knieval had to clear. One car, two cars. By the time I’d get up to say like maybe about 14 cars, it would begin to seem like this staggering number. Jumping over 14 cars. And the rest of the year, looking ahead, hundreds and hundreds of cars, me in the air trying to clear them. Who could do it? How did I ever think anyone could do it that way?
Think too much about how long it will take and you’ll never get there.
The length raises obvious questions of “What’s the Point? and “Is it Worth It?” and “What Does it All Mean?” Wallace himself provides as satisfactory an answer as any, in this excellent interview conducted for Salon by Laura Miller.
What do you think is uniquely magical about fiction?
Oh, Lordy, that could take a whole day! Well, the first line of attack for that question is that there is this existential loneliness in the real world. I don’t know what you’re thinking or what it’s like inside you and you don’t know what it’s like inside me. In fiction I think we can leap over that wall itself in a certain way. But that’s just the first level, because the idea of mental or emotional intimacy with a character is a delusion or a contrivance that’s set up through art by the writer. There’s another level that a piece of fiction is a conversation. There’s a relationship set up between the reader and the writer that’s very strange and very complicated and hard to talk about. A really great piece of fiction for me may or may not take me away and make me forget that I’m sitting in a chair. There’s real commercial stuff can do that, and a riveting plot can do that, but it doesn’t make me feel less lonely.
There’s a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone — intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I’m in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don’t with other art.
Again there are parallels with the struggle against addiction, with A.A. members urged to Identify, to resist the temptation to obliterate their loneliness with Substances and do the hard work of genuine human contact instead. As Dave Eggers notes in the foreword, the act of writing Infinite Jest must itself have required a level of immersion and obsession not wholly dissimilar from the Substance-mania and single-minded drive for tennis greatness that occupies much of the novel.
by Kevin Carey