Sunday, September 18, 2011

Summer of Infinite Jest 11 - Chow-22

Just finished the (comparatively short) twelve-page scene set in the tennis academy cafeteria -- and I almost said "mess hall," since more than any other scene in the book, this scene reminded me of "Catch-22." Heller did such an amazing job of handling two dozen characters and their individual foibles and issues and plot threads, nowhere as much as quotidian scenes like those in the mess hall or the briefing room -- say, Chapter 21, "General Dreedle." In the cafeteria scene in pages 627-638, DFW shows things we didn't know about ten or twelve major and minor E.T.A. characters -- hello, Mrs. Clarke, cafeteria manageress -- while very subtly, almost immeasurably, moving forward whatever it is we can still call the book's plot. Just another note to say how much I admire his mastery of this aspect of the novel.

I almost said that it was even more impressive given how little fiction DFW had published, but that's because I completely forgot about his first novel, "The Broom of the System," which no one talks about. I don't know why no one talks about it. I haven't read it, but I suppose it can only be because everything he achieved after that first novel dwarfs whatever he achieved with it.

Before the cafeteria scene was the weird farcical scene in Boston Commons in which the unnamed WYYY radio student engineer and fan of the vanished radio personality Madame Psychosis is literally scooped up and kidnapped by one of the Wheelchair Assassins, for no reason we can fathom. Didn't know what to make of that.

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