There are 2 kinds of difficult novels: those that you don’t enjoy while reading, but you genuinely enjoying having read, and those that you only enjoy while reading because the small picture stuff is infinitely better than the novel as a whole. Infinite Jest is one of the latter, and I think that’s why people never really stop reading it; it’s only good while you’re reading it. You finish and then start right over again, trying to piece things together until you create something in your mind that slightly makes sense of it all.
This thing is a real love/hate affair. There are moments of true brilliance that are exceptional achievements, and the characters are fantastic, the world-building absolute top-notch, but if you have to leave the “ending” up to your audience to imagine in their collective heads instead of – I don’t know – WRITING IT, you wrote yourself into a corner and didn’t/couldn’t write your way out.
Yes, I’ve gone back and read the first chapter after finishing it. Yes, I understand the chronology. Yes, I’ve read all the theories online. I get what probably happened, but how did it happen? Why did it happen? How did those strings and threads of story and plot actually come together? The answer is: they didn’t. If I have to construct a way for all of this brilliant stuff to come together myself, it means that the author never did. It’s just a hand-wavy sort of “oh and then stuff happened and then the end” cop-out.
There are threads in this book that insinuate all kinds of things, meaning that you can find evidence to setup any sort of ending that your heart desires, and it’s just as valid as anyone else’s theories, because there is no actual ending. Think Hal in that first chapter is actually Mario pretending to be Hal? They’re both described as hire hydrant shaped, maybe it was. Think John Wayne was an AFR plant all along, AFR agents and John Wayne are both described by the same quotes from The Terminator, maybe he was. Or maybe none of that, because there isn’t an ending, so we do not and will not ever know what actually happened. DFW created a piece of entertainment that once read, leaves the reader only wanting to read it again and again and again and again. It is an Infinite Jest.
Again, the brilliant stuff is so brilliant that I still enjoyed it immensely, and have to give this 4 out of 5 stars, and I get that postmodernism is all about ontological vs. epistemological approaches to fiction, but good lord at least have it slightly wrap up just a tiny bit!