I am not being dramatic or exaggerating in any way when I tell you that reading Infinite Jest
changed me as a person. When I first started this book, which I immediately began to refer to (semi)lovingly as The Thing, I wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into. It was 981 pages (plus 98 pages of footnotes) of what felt initially like pure insanity: ramblings with no rhyme or reason to them, characters who all seemed either absolutely horrible, absolutely crazy, or both, and no discernible plot. If I wasn't reading this because I was urged (read as: forced) to by someone whose opinion I trust and value highly (hey you, I know you're reading this), I would very likely have given up after the first 50 pages or so. As it was, the combination of a persistent friend and my own intellectual and literary pride kept me going, slogging through what seemed like endless pages, hating myself for being a naïve fool and thinking I could manage to read, much less enjoy, The Thing, and hating The Thing for being so damn frustrating.
The change was not all at once, nor was it immediately noticeable. It was not overt or tangible, and it is not something I can really put my finger on or wrap my mind around in order to adequately explain it. What I can say, unequivocally, is that it happened. The point when I first became conscious of it was somewhere just before I hit the mid-way point (page 490 if you don't count the footnotes). Two important things happened in the change: 1) I could literally feel
a shift in my mind whenever I picked up The Thing, as if my brain had finally adapted to its unfamiliar environment and learned how to process the information it was receiving, and 2) I started to genuinely enjoy reading Infinite Jest
. I have no idea if 1) caused 2) or if 2) caused 1) or if there was a causal effect between the two at all, but I do know that by the time I reached the second half of this book, I was no longer slogging through a jungle of hellish madness, I was enjoying a roller coaster ride through the human condition, surrounded by characters I had come to see as human beings, and swallowed by a world that I hope never to visit even while I feel I already have. I started to connect with what I was reading, and suddenly 981 pages didn't seem extreme: it seemed absolutely necessary. I was captivated, if not in a state of pure enjoyment, certainly in genuine respect: for David Foster Wallace as a writer, but mostly and more importantly for the masterpiece he created.
Of course, I could start writing here about all the themes and messages inherent in IJ, extrapolating about the themes and messages I perceived, or ranting about that damn ending, which is not located in a place where endings usually are. But the problem is, it would all be pointless, because, in the end, far beyond the depths of what art says, tries to say, or is interpreted as saying, I believe the larger purpose of art in all its forms is to change people: to cause that nearly unexplainable psychic shift that makes a mind expand and begin thinking just a little differently. Infinite Jest
does this, if you let it. And while it's not always an enjoyable process, perhaps it's worth remembering that nothing in life really is, and the change is absolutely worth all the pain of getting there.
All in all, the above review is a reflection of my own personal reading experience, and, as such, you are welcome to disregard it if you wish. But, if you take only one thing away from this review, let it be this:
If you like books, read this one.