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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Truncated Jest

The image on the right has appeared in the left column of this blog for about six months.

It's been a lie for the last three. I ain't reading that book.

David Foster Wallace is one of the most impressive prose stylists I've ever confronted on a page. His craft is astonishing. His book, Consider the Lobster, reviewed here some months back, convinced me that he is the thinking reader's Bill Bryson, but with a swag of skills Bryson could only admire at a distance.

I had read Lobster because I was intrigued by the glowing reviews of Infinite Jest, by all account's Wallace's masterpiece. Then again, it's also his only fiction monograph, and it tips in at about 1100 pages. I didn't want to commit to such a brick until I was confident the writer was worth it and the effort would be rewarded. So, I read Lobster as litmus. It's much shorter, and comprised of digestible-sized essays, to boot.

From page one until page last, Wallace's balletic, athletic writing in Lobster's essays left me gob-smacked. Again and again, he would surprise. His is not a light style, but it frolics and gambols and jives and is just implicitly self-effacing enough in its self-consciousness to be endearing. It is both unbearably erudite and unbearably funny.

I finished Lobster with a sense of anticipation. Infinite Jest seemed to just beckon my literary pleasure receptors.

Never on so much evidence have I been so disappointed.

If great novels are cathedrals, in Infinite Jest Wallace never makes it past the vestibule. I struggled through 100 pages of beautifully crafted prose that served no apparent purpose and went nowhere in particular. With 1000 pages to go, the Jest appeared infinite indeed, and I wasn't getting the joke. So, I put it down muttering to myself something about life being too short for an infinite joke when you're pretty sure the punchline isn't worth it.

I will keep recommending Wallace as an incomprehensibly gifted essayist. But if anyone wants my copy of Jest, you're welcome to it. Just leave a note in the comments. But you pay postage.


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