That it took me this long to discover David Foster Wallace makes little sense. I am a Massachusetts native in his late twenties with a Bachelor of English. I’ve worshipped at the temples of Franzen and Eugenides for a few years. (To learn recently that these three masterminds were pals is astoundingly enchanting. An improbable gathering of the Olympians.) In examining the trail that brought me here, I realize that all along Wallace was slowly pulling me into his orbit. I’m now blazing into his atmosphere with delight.
It only took half of the Supposedly Fun Thing essay collection to realize I was an all-in Wallace convert. What next? I’d heard multiple references to Infinite Jest‘s ambitious scope and didn’t want to dive in prematurely, lest I bail out as I had with Gravity’s Rainbow due to insufficient prerequisite preparation. I opted to look elsewhere in the DFW catalog first, especially his shorter novels.
But I altered course abruptly when I heard artist Robyn O’Neil speak on the wonderful Wallace-centric podcast The Great Concavity (a must-listen, folks). Infinite Jest was Robyn’s initial exposure to Wallace on the recommendation of a friend. She jumped in with no expectations and adored it immensely the first go-around. If she could have that memorable an experience without a freshman orientation, I felt more secure in my existing DFW-preparation levels. I’d already sampled Wallace’s thought process through his more directly-stated nonfiction. I’d enjoyed The End of the Tour movie which was startling and unforgettable. I’d absorbed a semester’s worth of intriguing background setup via the Concavity podcast. I’m up for this.
I also do not find daunting the investment required in reading a tome. On average I consume thirty books annually, and typically include one 1000+ page novel each year. Previous examples? The Brothers Karamazov I found to be a haunting masterpiece. Atlas Shrugged I thought, just maybe, was possibly just a smidge (ahem) lengthier and more shortsightedly preachy than necessary, but I had to read it “just to see,” and don’t regret doing so. Haruki Murakami’s so-called saga 1Q84, I have no reservations calling an inexcusable trainwreck. Still, even in a loathing rage, I’ll always see a book through to the final page, unless I genuinely don’t understand what’s going on. Since that’s not really a complaint I hear about Infinite Jest, I like my chances.
The above statements contribute to my rock hard commitment to tackle this novel in its entirety, on schedule. You herby have the right to expect that of me fully. I will not limp into the colosseum with statements of “I wonder if I’ll have enough time to read” or “I may not make it to the other side.”
In return I’d like to make clear what I expect from this novel and from the discussion community surrounding it: Assuage my loneliness. At the very least, help make sense of it. Much has been said about Wallace’s (debatably sappy) assertion that books have the power to make us feel less alone. I’ve certainly had my share of solemn Friday nights made only marginally less lonely by the presence of a novel in my hands.
Of course, a book needs an additional ingredient to attack that loneliness, namely Other People To Share It With. Virtually none of my friends and family are “into books” to any devoted extent. My “readerly drive” is a crucially important aspect of my existence, but as my current paradigm doesn’t include anyone who shares these points of reference, that element of my identity lies dormant during a majority of the communication in which I partake. It’s tragic, and wasteful, and I don’t like it.
That changes this winter.
Alex Yard is a Massachusetts writer and composer. His commentary and music are presented on Twitter @Zeavo.