Sunday, March 27, 2016

Completely Incomplete

I wasn't at all surprised to get to the final page of the main narrative of Infinite Jest only to find nothing like an end in the conventional sense. One reason for my lack of surprise was that in the hundred or so pages leading up to the non-ending I could see no sign of the narrative winding down in the manner one grows accustomed to, none of the usual signals of narrative exhaustion. Quite the opposite, in fact. A number of the segments in the concluding pages seemed to have the energy of new stories getting under way and stretching themselves out to measure possibilities and I found myself thoroughly enjoying these 'new' storylines. One example from many: the painfully sad and hilarious visit of Hal to the NA men's meeting in which he (and the reader) finds himself excruciatingly embarrassed by the regressively infantile behaviour on display is a brilliant, entirely unexpected contrast to the generally positive depiction of the AA meetings described from the point of view of Don Gately earlier in the novel. As stand-alone entertainment it succeeds but in no way furthers the dynamic of the text towards some kind of understanding of what it might take to beat the dreadful addictions under scrutiny. (Oh, and suddenly there's a wonderful couple of pages comprising a speech by one Mikey at an AA meeting which, again, just seems to 'happen' with no particular rhyme or reason, yet develops a gripping little narrative of its own that seems to stand somewhere between Hal's experience and those of Gately.)

After putting the novel to one side just now I went on-line for half-an-hour or so to see whether any commentary had been generated apropos the ending itself, or the novel in general. It turns out, hardly surprisingly, that the Web is awash with conjecture/complaint as to what Wallace thought he was doing. I think this in itself is testament to just how powerful his novel is. He creates a world that draws readers into it in an almost magnetic manner and it's clear that many relish allowing themselves to be drawn back.

But much as I enjoyed the novel I think it's time for me to create a distance between us. You can have too much of a good thing. Though I must say, I'm keen to read some of Wallace's essays and shorter fiction.

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