I finished Infinite Jest. I did. And I don’t know what that entitles me to. Literary enlightenment? bragging rights? A cookie? Honestly, when I finished the book, I didn’t know how to feel for a while. I tried to take some time to process it but my mind kept circling around one conclusion: That was so friggin’ good. My next thought is that I’ll never write anything that good, so why try?
In the following few months, I tried to read some books that were unread on my bookshelf, but nothing could even come close to David Foster Wallace, he ruined fiction for me. At least for a while. Switching to biographies for some time made me remember why I like great fiction so much better.
Non-fiction is transparent. There is a story to be told and the writer is telling it. Even if it has nothing to do with himself, Chris Matthews can research all things JFK and write a story about his life. And there certainly is something beautiful about real people writing real stories about real people.
But, in fiction the writer is feeling something and he can’t quite put it into words so he crafts a novel, and sometimes that author is feeling a whole lot of things he can’t voice so he creates a gargantuan labyrinth of a novel to say what he/she needs to. What I have come to learn is Fiction, great fiction, is always about real people writing make-believe stories about absolutely real life plot lines.
I think Fiction, Infinite Jest at the top of my list, can teach you more about life than a self-help book ever could. It is layered. And hard to read, and there are subtle messages behind each and every sentence. you never know if what you are reading is real or imagined, and if and when it might circle back around and be important later in the book. So, you take everything in, you read slow, you let yourself be confused because you can’t help it. You put your faith in the hands of the author and let him take you somewhere, even when it seems like you are sitting at a dead end, you just have to believe the writer is going to make it worth while to stick in there.
Hopefully you picked up on that being a metaphor for real life. If not, read that last paragraph again, slower.
So, I don’t know where I’m heading next. I’ve picked up a handful of supposedly great novels only to put them down a hundred pages in because DFW has set my bar at insurmountable heights. Maybe I’ll finally get back to writing more, maybe this is a time to take my head out of books and work on this non-fiction life that I actually live every day. I really don’t know, but I know I’m going somewhere, I can feel it. In every scene, every meal, each conversation I have with a new character in my life I hold onto and wonder when it is coming back, what it is foreshadowing, how it might be important.
At first I thought Infinite Jest was an important book because of the baffling storyline, and meticulously crafted characters, the all-too-real predicaments that characters found themselves in. But what I’ve come to learn months after reading is Infinite Jest is important to me because it taught me how to pay attention to life, how to choose what you spend your time thinking about, and that even the footnotes are critical.
For all that and more, Thank you David Foster Wallace.
Alas, poor Yorick! I wish I had the chance to know him, Horatio.