By Annie Lowrey
So, I’ve gotten through (feels a more apt term than “read”) my first batch of IJ, the first 75 pages. And here is my first blog post. In keeping with the style of the book, I think I’ll write in vignettes or sections, particularly as I have few coherent or uniting or even really insightful thoughts about the book at the moment.
It has been far more poignant reading Infinite Jest since DFW’s death (I first attempted it a few years ago, and only made it through the first few hundred pages). I’ve felt that way looking back through all his writing, fiction and non-fiction. It is, simply, very sad to read. I don’t normally feel that way, about other dead authors or even about recent suicides.
This is in part because I know, I think, a bit too much about DFW for comfort now. I read the D.T. Max and the Rolling Stone pieces on him, and many other outpourings. I wish I hadn’t, at least in the context of reading IJ.
For, the book, obviously, has a certain mental, unwell, broken schizophrenic quality — in keeping with its postmodern style of narrative and DFW’s own hysterical style. We flit between characters, between points of view, first person to third. Compounding the unease is the fact that the story echoes DFW’s own. The characters live in Boston and Arizona, they play tennis, they smoke pot, they bear extraordinary linguistic skills, they suffer from crippling suicidal thoughts. (Will they adopt dogs? Start wearing bandannas?) It reads a bit like novel-as-mental-upload: the product of a sadly broken mind.
Books are obviously the product of singular, idiosyncratic minds, separate but entangled, not analogs but derivatives. Because of his biography, because of the way the book is written, though, I’ve had particular trouble keeping my idea of DFW-as-author (the implied author, to use the technical term) from eliding with my understanding of DFW-as-man. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing, of course.
But, now, I find it upsetting. Particularly so when reading (spoilers to come here) about Kate, who wishes to die, to end, to exit; whose every cell wants to vomit; who desperately wants to commit suicide.
I think that second DFW, the real person, would have been so touched to know he spawned thousands of book groups and communities with his work. I wish this blog could invite him for sangria and Bruce Springsteen on my roof.
Part of the reason I’m so excited to read IJ is that it lends itself to close reading, a skill I spent years honing and alas rarely use now, as a journalist. Take, for instance, this passage, on my page 68: “Kate Gompert wore dark-blue boating sneakers without socks or laces. Half her face obscured by the either green or yellow case on the plastic pillow, her hair so long-unwashed it had separated into discrete shiny strands…”
What’s so striking about it? Well, it’s wonderfully visual: all those colors and adjectives, blue, yellow, green, shiny, obscured. Also, what curious narration. It’s written in third-person omniscient. So, what the hell does “either green or yellow” mean? Does that mean the case was some chartreuse, between green and yellow, or maybe green or yellow depending on how you were looking at it and the quality of light? Or that it was really either or, and it does not matter which — the reader can decide for herself? Or is that a mistake? How delightful!
One word that keeps coming up: “fantods.” Good word. Plus, I like the idea that each person has her own fantod, that it’s good definition. It is a stellar way to get to know someone, I suppose. Me, I’m terrified of spiders. I feel for Orin.