Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
on 20 March 2018
I finished this book last week and yet, according to amazon, I had purchased it in 2012. Admittedly I gave up around halfway through on my first read, after getting fatigued with the dark subject matter which does spike at certain times in the story (knowing the author's path in life added to the bad taste). But I loved the main characters and their arcs - square headed addict Don Gately on the road to recovery, and the failed coming of age of dictionary swallowing, borderline autistic, tennis whiz Hal Incandenza. There are exceptionally vivid passages of writing to be found - in particular the Eschaton game, J. Incandenza's lecture from his father about the ruinous effects of Marlon Brando's body language, and many others - the whole book is filled with a hyper literate wit and yet underneath this elaborate non chronological setup is a real heart of American mid west goodwill.
I would recommend it to a friend even though that carries a 50/50 chance they will get mad at me for doing so, it is a slog but on finishing it I can't wait to read it again - the surest sign of a great book. The exhaustive footnotes and overused slang was a little off putting at first, but I think it is warranted as Wallace wanted to try something new and ambitious here. While the form itself is post-modern, the message he carries is as old as can be, the main crux of D. Gately's struggle being accepting the no nonsense truths that are buried within cliche. Something that didn't quite work for me was reading characters like the endearing Gately, who are written as distinctly non academic types, yet tend to have an inner dialogue of an anxiety ridden intellectual, but perhaps like Joelle remarks in one conversation with him he was 'not as dumb as he pretends to be'.
Once I had warmed to it, the encyclopedic style was an enjoyable a part of the book, Wallace wants the reader to work a bit in order to encourage engagement - reading him in interviews with his not quite manifesto as an anti-ironist, you get the impression that his persona in IJ is not so much the younger Inc. Hal, but the elder James - and here again the entwined darkness of the novel and author's life sours my enjoyment... But there are strong allusions throughout to the Bros Karamazov (as well as Hamlet from which we get the title) - another book of my favourites that I am aware is just as dark. The non chronology and quirky satirical jab of subsidised time, have a disorientating effect on things, which like the footnotes and slang, once you get used to just seems normal, but I am not sure (with the exception of the first chapter) it ever justifies itself.
To make use of another cliché: we often critise in others what we dislike in ourselves. And it comes to mind towards the end of the book as the reader begins to realise Wallace will not be providing something so trite as an ending. Wallace was opposed to the detached cynicism and irony of his generation which is commendable, though his own addiction was tv rather than opiates - yet he writes a heavily ironical novel, was this a deliberate way to appeal to the people he wanted to reach, or simply something he could not escape from?