David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest is a literary/cultural icon, a sprawling phantasmagoric landmark of modern – or should I say post-modern or post-post-modern – fiction. Wherever writers write about writing, Infinite Jest and its author are mentioned so often it’s like a tic. While drafting this blog post, I had the radio on, with an author interview, and she cited Infinite Jest. As did Maureen Dowd in a column I read just an hour later.
Sadly, Wallace, after achieving such acclaim, in 2008, committed suicide. But perhaps that was what really turbocharged his literary reputation — as in Van Gogh’s case, a great career move.
Anyway, feeling bludgeoned by ubiquitous obeisances to this book, I finally say to myself: OK, OK, I should read it!
Of course, I could go to a bookstore or library or Amazon. But several local libraries run fantastic used book sales, of which I’m a devotee. For just a buck or two, I find lots of books I can sell (mainly on ancient history); for gifts; and of course to read. So I started to look out for Infinite Jest.
Several years, and quite a few sales later, no luck. It began to seem bizarre. One of the most mooned about books of modern times – you’d imagine some copies were sold, to turn up in used book sales. But the more I failed to find it, the more determined I became. And it’s not some slim little volume that might be overlooked, but a 1,000+ page behemoth you could hardly miss.
The most recent sale had table after table of fat novels, all those Pattersons and Koontzes and Picoults, etc., at which normally I turn up my nose. But this sea of dreck I now set about searching, for just one, a needle in a haystack, a holy grail, almost maniacally, like Ahab obsessed with his white whale, spurring myself on: “This time I shall not be denied.” Like it had to be there, had to be, if only I looked hard enough. But yet again my quest met with defeat. I found no Infinite Jest. Not even A Little Jest. No Jest whatsoever.
So I cannot give you my usual snarky book review. Perhaps Infinite Jest doesn’t, after all, really exist. Maybe that itself is the infinite jest.
UPDATE MAY 4 — The great thing about the Schenectady Library’s book sales, in addition to hugeosity, is that the books are very well sorted, with the prime fiction section alphabetized by author. At today’s starting bell, I dove straight for W, and THERE IT WAS. Such a big fat book I actually could spot my prey from halfway across the room.
Now all I need do is read it.
Tags: David Foster Wallace