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Dave Eggers | Electric Cereal

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Dave Eggers’ negative review of Infinite Jest from 1996

infinite-jest-hardcover

AMERICA IN 2010: EVERYONE’S HOOKED ON SOMETHING
Novel portrays an escapist culture in which we are willing to die for pleasure

INFINITE JEST
by David Foster Wallace
Little, Brown; 1,087 pages $29.95

REVIEWED BY DAVE EGGERS

It’s post-millennial America, sometime after the Jack Kemp/Rush Limbaugh presidential administration. Giant deformed babies and herds of feral hamsters roam the blasted landscape of the Great Concavity, a gigantic toxic waste receptacle that covers much of what used to be Maine, New Hampshire, and upstate New York.

Relations between the United States and Canada are strained (due to the northerly directed fallout from the Concavity), and a bizarre cadre of wheelchair-bound Quebecer insurgents is planning a massive terrorist attack on the entertainment-lulled and drug-addled U.S. populace.

Federal budget shortfalls have necessitated the privatization of many formerly sacred American institutions. The Statue of Liberty is available for unique advertising opportunities, and for the right price, the government is selling the rights to time itself. The year is 2010, but it’s better known, in this era of subsidized time, as the Year of the Depend Undergarment. (2005 was the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar.)

Such is the provocative backdrop of David Foster Wallace’s brilliant, fat, and frustrating second novel, Infinite Jest. Science fiction it’s not. Though set against an epic landscape of environmental toxicity and corporate insinuation, at its core the book is an intimate and bleak portrait of the human fallout caused by a weak-willed country interested only in pleasing itself. Exploring the lives of those enslaved by TV, drugs, alcohol and emotional dependence, Wallace paints a picture, one character at a time, of the decline of a culture paralyzed by its need for escape and its willingness to die in the pursuit of happiness.

Like his earlier novel, The Broom of the System, Infinite Jest revolves around a peculiar and brilliant family. The Incandenzas are proprietors of the posh Enfield Tennis Academy, a combination athlete factory and elite academic high school. Jim Incandenza, the eccentric and hard-drinking Academy founder and family patriarch, has, after failing in his attempt to make it as a filmmaker, recently killed himself by sticking his head in a microwave.

His three sons — Orin, a celebrated punter for a pro football team; Mario, who has a birth defect and a heart of gold; and Hal, a linguistic genius and nationally ranked junior tennis player — struggle to come to grips with the void and legacy left by their father. But the family is coming apart at the seams. Avril, Jim’s widow, is seeing a 17-year-old. Orin has an uncontrollable habit of seducing and abandoning married woman. Hal, listless and increasingly withdrawn, is hooked on high-resign marijuana.

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An Excerpt from David Eggers’ The Circle

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The New York Times published an excerpt today from “The Circle” by David Eggers. A futuristic look at what happens when a Google-inspired company turns into big brother.

My God, Mae thought. It’s heaven.

The campus was vast and rambling, wild with Pacific color, and yet the smallest detail had been carefully considered, shaped by the most eloquent hands. On land that had once been a shipyard, then a drive-in movie theater, then a flea market, then blight, there were now soft green hills and a Calatrava fountain. And a picnic area, with tables arranged in concentric circles. And tennis courts, clay and grass. And a volleyball court, where tiny children from the company’s day care center were running, squealing, weaving like water. Amid all this was a workplace, too, 400 acres of brushed steel and glass on the headquarters of the most influential company in the world. The sky above was spotless and blue.

Mae was making her way through all of this, walking from the parking lot to the main hall, trying to look as if she belonged. The walkway wound around lemon and orange trees, and its quiet red cobblestones were replaced, occasionally, by tiles with imploring messages of inspiration. “Dream,” one said, the word laser-cut into the stone. “Participate,” said another. There were dozens: “Find Community.” “Innovate.” “Imagine.” She just missed stepping on the hand of a young man in a gray jumpsuit; he was installing a new stone that said, “Breathe.”

And here is an interview where he explains his thinking behind the book:

Part of what is terrifying about the book is how easy it is to imagine the products the Circle presents becoming real things. SeeChange, small cameras that let users share live-stream footage, for instance. It’s easy to imagine much of this as our reality at some point. When you were writing the book, were you thinking about this at all?

I wanted the Circle technology to seem logical and likely in the not-distant future. More than a few times, though, I had to make adjustments when I thought I’d invented some scary new product or feature, only to find it already existed or was on its way.

Your novel imagines that social-media sharing will only increase, and for people who resist, well, I don’t want to give anything away, but you certainly don’t describe a happy future. Do you think we’re past a point when the culture can change, and if not, are there steps you imagine people taking?

I have to admit I have no idea. I really don’t know what will happen next. I have some fears, for sure, and the novel was a way to shape those fears into a narrative, and give them to you, the reader. Sorry in advance.