Notkin’s Believe It or Not

As Mark duly noted in yesterday’s post, we’re well into the pages where the novel shifts into overdrive and everything seems to be happening all at once. Characters are meeting, plots are intersecting, and the story in some sections is clear as mud. You don’t know who to trust, and unreliable narrators abound.

In last week’s reading, we saw the return of Molly Notkin, a character you probably never thought you’d see emerge again. She has a mouthful for the U.S.O.U.S interrogator and for us, who have been silently interrogating the book as we’ve gone along. Nothing in her narrative seems outright unbelievable — in fact, with all of the messed up families, weird sexual relationships and stories from people on substances, her revelations seem pretty run of the mill.

And yet, we’re encouraged to look at her narrative with a skeptical eye. Wallace writes:

And it was this, the harsh light on her fully exposed post-Marxist face, more than any kind of tough noir-informed grilling from R. Tine Jr. and the other technical interviewer, that prompted M.I.T. A.B.D.-Ph.D. Molly Notkin…to spill her guts, roll over, eat cheese, sing like a canary, tell everything she believed she knew.

Here are some of the things Molly reveals in this section. Which do you believe (and not)? What do you make out of some of these ambiguities?

  1. The Infinite Jest (V or VI) cartridge features Joelle Van Dyne (Madame Psychosis), naked and hugely pregnant, representing death, leaning over the viewer while explaining that “Death is always female, and that the female is always maternal.” Her face is “hideously deformed” and hidden, and she may or may not be holding a knife.
  2. James Orin Incandenza (JOI)’s kitchen appliance suicide may have been inspired, at least in part, by Joelle’s mother, who killed herself by putting her arms – one at a time – down the garbage disposal.
  3. Joelle and JOI were not sexually involved.
  4. Joelle was not present at JOI’s suicide, funeral or will-reading ceremony.
  5. Joelle was named a beneficiary in JOI’s will.
  6. Avril Incandenza doesn’t have any connections with anti-American groups, cells or movements.
  7. Joelle only agreed to star in Infinite Jest under the condition that JOI stop drinking alcohol.
  8. JOI was sober for three and a half months, up until the day of his death.
  9. Avril placed the bottle of Wild Turkey next to JOI’s body, upset that he had been unwilling to give up drinking for her, but that he would “for” Joelle.
  10. Joelle is hideously deformed, after indirectly getting hit in the face with acid.
  11. Avril (possibly) had incestuous relations with Orin.
  12. That Joelle’s real name is Lucille Duquette.

When it comes to these revelations: believe them or not? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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3 thoughts on “Notkin’s Believe It or Not”

  1. Oh I don’t have any answers but I do have more questions like, what does Molly Not-kin’s name suggest to readers? Is Molly a reference to the drug? Does Not-kin suggest she’s unrelated or not kind? For me, Molly’s name evokes Hamlet’s line, “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” Not quite sure why.

    1. Molly (for “molecular” or “pure” MDMA powder) the drug didn’t exist until the late ’90s, well after the book was written. But I did notice the name Notkin as Not-Kin the first time I read the book, along with its association and entanglement with the various revelations and suspicions of incestuous relationships. Once you see it like that it’s pretty obvious, but that’s the best I can do to connect the dots, so I always write it that way hoping that somebody else can. I didn’t make that Hamlet connection though, and I’m not sure if it means anything, but I like it.

  2. I think you pretty much nailed it. I love, love, love this section even though it leaves me more sad and distraught than happy and fulfilled, which is maybe kind of funny given how excited and eager I was to have the blanket pulled back and questions answered by a simple black-and-white late-night TV detective show interrogation scene.

    I don’t think I believe any of what she said, but now the power of her suggestions will affect my perception from here on out. I find the way Wallace does this brilliant and fascinating. Like I said in Mark’s post yesterday, he basically begins the section by telling us that she’s lying with his end notes – 326. (and then some), 328. (which is actually complete horseshit) – and from time to time puts in a few other things which we, but not the interviewers, know to be untrue, then ends it by saying that her statement was kind of miraculous if you think about it.

    She even invokes the falsehood of the Lincoln-Kennedy urban myth, but we also know she attributes a true and very detailed neurotic conviction from her own personal life to the Auteur, so does she elsewhere compose her statements by mis-attributing things that are true to make her story seem more credible to the interviewers? If she were waterboarded would her statements be any more trustworthy? So I think a lot of what she said might very well be true, but not however in the way she’s using it.

    Molly Not-Kin. One or two moments, a piece of your time.

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