I’m only about 280 pages into this 1000+ page behemoth of a novel (and they’re not smaller, wide-margin pages, or even pages with a lot of dialogue to help the pages turn by generating a lot of white space)… I wanted to share my first impressions of this book.
I might regret such an overstatement later – but –
This just might be the best novel I have ever read. I’ll try to explain why.
Imagine a grand synthesis of Joyce’s Ulysses and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. In other words, a linguistically and stylistically adventurous (massive understatement), but also extremely emotionally attuned, maniacal focus on family, group and individual dysfunction – now throw in what I think is probably David Foster Wallace’s unique contribution to the novel even vis-a-vis Joyce an Dostoevsky – an acute ability to map the depths of American subcultures: in this case, avant-garde film-making and film-study, competitive youth tennis, and AA-style drug and alcohol abuse recovery culture.
Maybe that doesn’t make it sound like the best book you’d ever want to read, but with most great novels (at least to me) the question “what is this book about?” always seems so secondary. And I don’t say this from the perspective of a naif who’s never read any books, or is just sort of a fan/devotee of certain authors. I’ve read wide swathes of the usual 19th and 20th century western canon (admittedly, focusing on Anglo-American and Russian greats), and I really think this book gives all the rest of those a run for their money.
This book is impressive at both the micro- and macro-structural levels. At the micro-level, at the level of syntax, DFW’s sentences have this fascinating facility for complexity and efficiency at once, which somehow become both sophisticated and strikingly informal. Sometimes the attention to detail is so astounding you have to conclude it must just be a typo. Viz: the AA-center worker’s claim that he hasn’t seen one “iona of evidence” that such-and-such a claim is true. A few pages later, he talks about how someone’s trying to use “Morris code.” His insistence in using “which” as a conjunction, rather than properly as a relative pronoun, as in: “That car which, it has new headlights, is due for an oil change.” There’s whole clusters of diction and syntax mistakes (albeit only at about the rate of one per 2 pages) that add up to such intense vividness of character you’re left fatigued just in reading. Really, it’s possible only Joyce rivals this acuity, and in a head-to-head match-up, Joyce might lose.
And at the macro-level, there is a depth of thematic meditation upon addiction, death, entertainment, education, talent, politics, nihilism, etc. that you’re left with the feeling I got from the greatest of Dostoevsky’s later works. I imagine I’ll have more to say about this when I’m done.
I wonder if anyone out there reading this has read any/all of this novel, or other of DFW’s novels or essays, and has similar (or totally different) thoughts about them?