Saturday, October 15, 2011

Summer of Infinite Jest 12 -- page 726

I'm not cheating. It's Indian Summer in San Francisco, temps in the 80s, a dry, calm and smoggy atmosphere. Street fairs abound.

Page 726 reveals what the reader has been suspecting for at least the last couple hundred pages, that Joelle Van Dyne, aka the Prettiest Girl Of All Time (PGOAT), aka Madame Psychosis of MIT's student radio station, is in fact the person who appears in the mysteriously compelling video. Aka The Entertainment.

We're in the middle of a long section in which the Wheelchair Assassins (whom I don't find nearly as compelling as I think the author did; in my opinion they're a minstrel show) zero in on a copy of the magically compelling videotape at a Boston-area video store. A bunch of bodies are piling up, it's not clear why, when their methodical search finally uncovers the McGuffin. And in a bit of indirect narration, the author explains the W.A.'s tactics of having various people under surveillance, including Hal the tennis prodigy.

In fact, several of the seemingly disparate plot threads are finally being drawn together. Joelle is in Ennet House, down the hill from the tennis academy; she appears in the videotape, which it is now clear is one of the works (perhaps the final work) of Hal's father James Incandenza; a menacing organization is on their trail. And she's in love with Don Gately, who just got royally beaten and shot in an extremely entertaining dust-up. ("Just" meaning a hundred pages ago.)

And I'm kind of sad that after 725 pages of free-ranging exposition a plot has started to raise its head. I was reading an essay on PopMatters, "The Collision of Roadside Picnic and Infinite Jest," where a critic says something I've read in other places, that there is no big payoff to the story in I.J., that the book just sort of stops, like the final episode of "The Sopranos."1 And I've read that this failure to bring the book to a standard ending is regarded universally as simply one last joke on the part of the author.

Surely if you've read all the way to the end of "Infinite Jest," you're doing so for other reasons than wanting to know what happens at the end. That's why I find the somewhat obvious intrusion of narrative plot annoying. At this point I don't even care if there's a plot; it's like watching early seasons of "Big Brother" when all you're doing is watching the people in the house just being people in a house -- the quality of observation and language alone justify the time and expense of reading.

But I better get a move on, or I'll never finish before the end of Indian Summer.

1. See my comment on this sort of narrative frustration in a post I wrote on The Rumpus, The Limits of Narrative.

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