by Kevin Carey
Infinite Jest is, famously, very long. My copy runs 1,079 pages, and they strike me as above-average in terms of size and word density–in fact according to Amazon the book contains 483,994 words, which, when divided by the industry standard of 250 words per page, yields a normalized length of 1,936 pages. In any event, it’s long. And one of the (many) reasons is that Wallace periodically takes the reader on extended first-person journeys into the minds of people gripped by (often chemically-induced) obsession. The first comes very early, the “Erdedy waits for pot” story that begins on page 17. They’re some of the most un-put-downable parts of the novel, both in the sense that they’re compelling to read and that there’s really no way to make sense of them without imbibing from start to finish in a single, breathless, no paragraph-breaks-allowed gulp. That forces the reader to engage with the mental state of the character directly, to approximate the feeling of succumbing to a larger, implacable and seemingly arbitrary force–in this case, the author Himself. These questions of will and self appear throughout the book as the characters grapple with the paradox of how finding freedom from one sort of master might mean surrendering to another, just as the reader’s natural instinct to make narrative sense out the book is deliberately manipulated and confounded.