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INFINITE JEST by David Foster Wallace Kirkus Star



Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1996
ISBN: 0-316-92004-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

An ambitious and frequently brilliant fictional exploration of the pursuit of pleasure and its ramifying consequences, by the antic author of Girl with Curious Hair (1989), etc. In a manner both reminiscent and imitative of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Wallace traces the sometimes connected fortunes of two dozen or so addicted and obsessed souls variously involved with: the authoritarian cultivation of young minds and especially bodies at the Enfield (Mass.) Tennis Academy; the supervision of AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) patients at Ennet House, a Boston-area rehab facility; and the necessarily clandestine activities of the U.S. Office of Unspecified Services, which takes a dim and paranoid view of what most Americans accept as entertainment. And there's undoubtedly a link between the U.S. tour planned by a Quebec tennis team and the machinations of Québecois separatists, notably the Dr. Strangelovian R‚my Marathe, a triple- or possibly quadruple-agent struggling with his own surreptitious needs. In nearly a thousand pages of text and another hundred of amplificatory "Notes and Errata," Wallace plays a skillful set of exhaustive variations on these related plots and motifs (deformity and addiction crop up repeatedly). Major characters are the remarkable Incandenza brothers: tennis phenom and autodidact Harold, his brothers Orin and natally challenged Marion ("the family's real prodigy, an in-bent savant-type genius of no classifiable type"), their unconventional mother Avril ("the Moms") and late father James (a suicide), whose career as an independent filmmaker will cast long shadows over his survivors' lives. They're surrounded, balanced, and thrown into fractious comic relief by such figures as the aforementioned Marathe, U.S.O.S. Chief Rodney Tine, and drug-ridden, violence-prone Don Gately, who labors erratically to save others and himself within the Stygian confines of Ennet House. It's a raucous, Falstaffian, deadly serious vision of a cartwheeling culture in the self-pleasuring throes of self-destruction, marred only by its author's unaccountable fondness for farcical acronyms (also from Pynchon) and dumb jokes (not that there aren't dozens of good ones as well). Almost certainly the biggest and boldest novel we'll see this year and, flaws and all, probably one of the best.