Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer of Infinite Jest -- 3

Yesterday and the day before I read the passage from pages 95-125 which alternates between scenes at the tennis academy and a scene on a ridge outside Tucson and a dialogue between two secret agents. I liked the kid scenes enormously. They start in the locker room as several student athletes rest from a long day of classes and sports. In this first scene we hear them complaining to each other in an arch, jokey way that is also somehow formalized -- and indeed it's later referred to as a "ritual" -- about the heavy load of studying and tennis practice. the author also establishes for the reader the academy's system of mentoring, in which an older teenager is responsible for shepherding and encouraging several younger ones, as young as age 10. In the following scenes we see this mentoring several times over; we see how each of the older teenagers goes about it. And it's enormously sweet the way the older kids take the younger ones in hand, rather than bullying them, which is what you'd expect Americans to do, or at the very least holding them at arm's length with the kind of needling that so typifies the emotional immaturity of American males with each other.

The oblique way they talk to each other in the first locker room scene reminded me a little of Don De Lillo and they way his teenaged characters banter, but instead of going the alienated, hostile route that De Lillo's characters usually choose, these kids have an underlying warmth and camaraderie that keeps their talk from becoming the sort of war De Lillo's characters are usually engaged in with each other.

These scenes alternate, as I said, with a single scene on a ridge outside Tucson, as two secret agents -- one Canadian and one American, I think, the former in a wheelchair and one of the "wheelchair assassin" squad -- banter about tradecraft, gossip about the latest news, and feel each other out as to who's responsible for the deaths and injuries caused by the magically compelling videotape. Neither one seems to know much about it, but since they're spies they could be lying to each other. In any case I didn't cotton too much to this scene. I suppose the author is laying plenty groundwork for a geo-political farce having to do with the reapportionment of territories between Canada and the U.S. (perhaps not a union as I earlier surmised). But it just didn't seem that interesting. He imbues the scenes in the tennis academy with much more warmth.

There follows a seven-page scene narrated in first-person by an unknown drug addict and thug, written in an unidentifiable patois that is a mixture of street dialect and intentionally bad spelling. I was surprised that I found myself drawn in by this narrative, because I avoid books written in dialect. But it's a very well-shaped story, a sort of horror tale involving the violence of the narrator and his two comrades in thuggery, and their relations with a sinister Chinatown drug dealer. Again, the author must be setting up some longer thread, because while we've seen stuff about drugs already (an unnamed man waiting for a delivery of high-class weed, and a scene on a psych ward between a shrink and a young woman), I think it's the first time we've seen these characters. Maybe all the drug-related characters will come together later.

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