I’m not finished. Armed with every readerly intention of closing the Infinite Jest covers today, I didn’t pull it off. I’ve got a whole slew of excuses as to why that is, but I’m guessing that you’re not particularly interested in hearing them. And who knows – maybe you’re not done either.
I’m close, though. I’m on page 963, and frankly I’m not sure how I feel about finishing. A little ambivalent, I’d say. As you know, I read Infinite Jest once before, and if I recall correctly, I wasn’t terribly satisfied with the ending. As I’m sure you know by now, this is not a book that gets wrapped up with a bow. Questions are left unanswered and, as we approach the finish line, new ones emerge.
For instance, in the opening Year of Glad pages of Infinite Jest, we find Hal thinking of he and Don Gately digging up JOI’s head while a masked John Wayne stands watch. But on page 934, we have a gun-shot and delerious Don Gately in his hospital bed wracked with feverish dreams containing accurate details about this future event and about Hal, who Gately has yet to meet:
He dreams 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…and the sad kid is trying to scream at Gately that the important thing was buried in the guy’s head and to divert the Continental Emergency to start digging the guy’s head up before it’s too late, but the kid moves his mouth but nothing comes out…
Of course, Wallace has slowly nudged our suspension of disbelief ever further so that now we’re Abiding with big Don Gately in his hospital bed while JOI’s wraith holds forth on the temporal shift between the world of the living and the dead while balancing an East Asian can of Coke on Gately’s forehead, and I’m quibbling over the alignment between dreams and (what might be perceived by Hal as) reality? I think not. In truth, I’m eating all of this up, loving the connective tissue emerging between different parts of the story.
Reading Gately’s backstory has been particularly fascinating. While reading the early bits about his childhood, I realized that a whole novel could be devoted to pre-YDAU Don Gately, as is the case with many of Infinite Jest‘s characters, and further that one of the reasons I love IJ so much is the intricacy with which Wallace has created these characters, the extent to which they are built out. Whether elaborated upon in the text or not, each one of their stories has the potential for an ancillary novel (Is there IJ fan fiction out there?).
More connective tissue: In the later bits of Gately’s story, I recognized Sixties Bob as the tie-dyed old man who, much earlier, traded the DMZ to the Antitois brothers, and (as a segueless aside) I looked on jaw agape as a mentally-buckling Ortho Stice, still not underestimating objects, stands on a chair betting Kyle Coyle that he can lift it into the air at the same time.
Of course agápe is just one of four Greek words for love, and I am nothing if not still very much in love with this book. I’m 20 pages away and a little anxious about the idea of it all coming to an end, so maybe I’m allowing a little temporal shift of my own to forestall that moment.