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Infinite Jest

by: David Foster Wallace

Publisher: Little Brown & Co (1995)


Staff Pick by comrade: Lucas

it is about Madame Psychosis, her radio show, and her drug habit; it is about Hal’s family, or the wacky near-future United States that gives much of New England to Canada in exchange for rights to use the land as a dumping ground that becomes infested with feral hamsters and other fabled creatures, or the international intrigue surrounding a video that leaves its viewers catatonic, or drugs – mostly it’s about drugs. But no one ever tells you this when asked what the books is about; there is an undercurrent beneath all this: the book is in many ways a book about how shitty life is, about coping with the fact that most everything sucks big time. It is also about how people deal with this fact, and how they in turn deal with the consequences of dealing with this fact poorly or in still shittier ways.

This makes it sound depressing; it isn’t. It is actually hilarious – I became that person who laughs uncontrollably in public for no discernable reason whatsoever while I was reading it. And it isn’t just “highbrow” humor (whatever that means): the jokes range from biting social commentary to pure slapstick (a boy’s forehead gets stuck to a frozen window at one point and “hilarity ensues” as they say in bad movie trailers). The students of ETA play a game in the few spare moments afforded them called Eschaton, a tennis-lob-based game complete with arcane mathematical calculations and geo-political considerations (only private school kids could conceive of such a game), the ultimate outcome of which being complete global annihilation (within the confines of the game, of course). The absurdity-ad-infinitum throughout parodies the banality of much of what comprises our lives: endless lists of unpronounceable ailments; the President’s lack of interest in anything not directly related to cleanliness; the vanity of using video-chat technology.