*I’ve made a slight change to this since its first appearance on Friday, as Mark Flannagan, during our last video round table, brought to my attention a point I’d misinterpreted in Hal’s timeline. (Yes, even guides are fallible.)
Congratulations; you’ve finished my favorite book of all time. I’m sure, as I claimed in my intro post, that we’re better able to understand each other now.
I found I read faster and more earnestly this week than any previous during Infinite Winter. The in-sight finish line goaded me on. I don’t think I recall feeling this way on my first read though, approaching 981 with fear and trepidation about how the myriad plotlines could even remotely resolve in the dwindling pages between my thumb and forefinger. I recall seeing there wasn’t a paragraph break after Gately and Fackelmann’s flashback of reckoning, and being so discouraged there wouldn’t be a final word about Hal, Mario, Marathe, and the fate of the samizdat and O.N.A.N. I recall being confused, and even dissatisfied with Gately out there alone on the freezing sand.
But time does good things for this book. As do conversation, Googling, and straight-up rereading it.
The thing is, there is a final word (to some extent) about those characters and things. There are clues littered everywhere in plain sight, but on first encounter we don’t have the equipment to recognize them. So I recommend that you read it again to find them (the clues), many of which you will, with great investigative relish.
The things I love most about this last section are the ways we see Hal, Gately, and Mario resolve. I’m currently in the final stages of writing a long academic thing about this, regarding how these three end up, in the context of theological salvation. Now that we’re done, we know that Hal’s ending is in the first pages of the novel, in the Year of Glad, the final Subsidized year we’re given, according to page 223, that great Rosetta Stone I referred to in my intro post as the beginning of the novel’s generous relenting.
Hal has a psychic meltdown in his judgement by the trinity of the three Deans, but we’re given some other details about what happens to him after the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. On 16-17, we see Hal, “NR” Wayne, and Gately in a graveyard, at some earlier point which must also be in Year of Glad (given Gately’s hospitalization and recovery time), digging up J.O.I.’s head looking for the master copy of Infinite Jest. This week we read of Gately’s proleptic vision on 934, that “he’s with a very sad kid and they’re in a graveyard digging some dead guy’s head up and it’s really important, like Continental-Emergency important,” which Mark pointed us to on Monday. So Hal appears to be out in Arizona, but we do have a few other details about what he gets up to after the novel’s main action in Y.D.A.U.
Then Gately’s in a kind of limbo state, Abiding and overcoming addiction one gleaming car at a time, though in a great deal of pain. Again, we can thank that cryptic glimpse about the graveyard to know that he ends up recovering from his wounds. Gately by this point has not only come to manage his addiction, but has heroically saved the despicable Randy Lenz from certain death in a staggering gesture of self-sacrifice, and has come full circle with the A.D.A. coming to ask for Gately’s forgiveness for his own unforgiveness for the unfortunate toothbrush and bottom incident way back on 56. The final pages revisiting Gately’s narcotic rock-bottom, with his kind of baptismal reawakening on the beach, actually feels satisfying to me now, like a very fitting ending.
And then we have Mario, certainly a less central character than Hal and Gately in terms of air time, but packing a serious final scene in the recollection of Barry Loach’s redemption from a fate “dangerously close to disappearing forever into the fringes and dregs of metro Boston street life and spending his whole adult life homeless and louse-ridden and stemming in the Boston Common and drinking out of brown paper bags” (970). Along comes guileless Mario, offering his semblance of a hand, extending basic human warmth to the socio-economic leper that is Barry Loach, pulling him out of what is indeed a very bleak future, necrotic rot of the soul and all.
So I argue in my thesis that Hal, Gately, and Mario represent a kind of figurative salvation spectrum, with Hal unresolved or even doomed, Gately a sinner-turned-redeemer, and Mario a savior, marking one interesting theological conversation the novel engages with. And there are many other conversations the book has with a variety of other faith traditions. In the 20th anniversary foreword, Tom Bissell claims it’s “a mistake to view him [Wallace] as anything other than a religious writer. His religion, like many, was a religion of language. Whereas most religions deify only certain words, Wallace exalted all of them” (xiii).
I trust we can all now say together, “Amen.”