In honor of the Infinite Jest 10 year reissue, the TLS has given the book another look. It’s a good take.
For all its many branching offshoots, the structure of Infinite Jest is built on a narrative foundation that recalls James Joyce’s Ulysses, an ancestor text that is specifically evoked in Wallace’s use of the famous Joycean compound "scrotumtightening". Both texts have one foot in Hamlet, and both are organized around two narrative arcs that set a youthful prodigy who has problems with his father, next to an older man, who is less well educated but more humane than his son. In both books the author begins with the younger talent, but moves toward the older man as the story approaches its end. In Wallace’s novel, the Leopold Bloom figure is provided by Donald Gately, an enormous former burglar who is trying to lead an earnest life and recover from his addictions at a halfway house. Balanced against this story is that of the Stephen Dedalus figure, provided by Hal Incandenza, a teenage lexical and tennis prodigy who is descending into addiction even as Gately makes his escape. Between the cynicism of youth and the developing sincerity of the recovering addict, Wallace attempts to explore what he calls "the soul’s core systems", probing his characters’ sometimes nebulous sense of self.
This "reflect back on the book 10 years on" is the kind of thing I’d like to see more of. With book coverage these days, we get tons of short coverage right when a book is pubbed and the occasional mention in a longer survey-type article, usually when the author has a new book out. But we rarely get this sort of piece, where a significant book is reapproached after we’ve all had a number of years to take it in.
I wish there would be more of this. Literature is about an ongoing conversation, not a ton of short takes up front and then nothing. Seems like blogs are ideally suited to help fill this gap.