Monday, August 15, 2011
I Jest Not
I rarely give up on books. When it comes to books I'm task oriented. I wanted to get to the end and check it off my list. Although when a great read comes along I slow down to enjoy the ride. I'm also a bit of an optimist, especially when it comes to books of good reputation. So I figure the first part may be a bit slow but if I keep plowing through it may be well worth it by the end.
But I finally gave up on Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. My Kindle says I only made it 20% of the way through this thousand page behemoth. This book was one of the most famous fiction works of the 1990's. It's author, Wallace, a literary star. His suicide three years ago only magnified his literary reputation. Earlier this year one of his posthumous works was released to great fanfare and acclaim. Many of the authors and literary critics I admire most are big fans.
So I took the plunge a few months ago and quit after about 50 pages. A month later I began again. I made it significantly farther (or further?) but finally gave up last week. I got tired of the pretension and literary gimmicks. Some consider his numerous endnotes a fascinating literary device. I found them annoying despite the fact that the Kindle makes reviewing the endnotes a snap. I grew weary of show-offy vocabulary that seemed thrown in simply for effect. Believe me, I love obscure, polysyllabic words as much as the next guy but not when they seem arbitrary and disrupt the narrative. Of course, disrupting the narrative flow was what Wallace said the endnotes were for so maybe that was his point.
So I probably just ticked off a bunch of literary hipsters with my dismissal of their hero. Granted he's much more of a novelist/writer than I could ever hope to be. I did see real talent, amazing talent. I saw flashes of brilliance. But the story and the characters never grabbed hold of me. I'm sorry I don't dig Jest. I'm not deleting it from my Kindle. Maybe down the road I'll give it another shot. I am capable of reading difficult works. I read them all the time. I love Joyce, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard and whoever you want to throw at me. Just not this guy and this book. Maybe I'll check out one of his other works.
He certainly doesn't belong in the triumvirate of today's super-novelists David Mitchell, Douglas Coupland and Dave Eggers.