David Foster Wallace (USA, 1962)
"Infinite Jest" (1996) + is a complex and sprawling novel written in different conversational styles and set in the future from the Year of the Whopper (which corresponds to 2002) to the Year of Glad (2010). The chapters are not written in chronological order and it is not trivial to keep track of where events are in the timeline. Furthermore, about 10% of the novel takes place in the "footnotes" collected at the end of the book.
Characters proliferate to the point that the book feels like a collection of loosely-related short stories. Most of them deal, directly or indirectly, with drugs and/or alcohol. Many of them are written in a vernacular language borrowed from drug addicts. Wallace also indulges in the habit of using abbreviations, acronyms and nicknames. It's an avalanche of bad English that distracts from the meaning (if any) of the story. Many of the characters are irrelevant. Wallace keeps exploding the cast, perhaps because he doesn't quite know what to do with the cast. Once he introduces a character, Wallace doesn't know how to make him or her interact with the others. Dialogues are, in fact, the weakest part of the novel. Vast sections of the book are irrelevant. They don't add anything to the story, they are not particularly well written, they contain no major meditation. "Verbose" doesn't even come close to describing Wallace's style. Most of the book is a chaotic heap of details that are both redundant and poorly written. It is not only verbose: the verbosity is stubbornly and endlessly about drug addictions, alcoholism, murder and all sorts of freak accidents. It is a veritable overdose of the same kind of scene played over and over again, until the reader becomes numb and doesn't even smile anymore. You just turn the page towards the next drug addict and the next freak accident.
The nonlinear structure feels unnecessary: Wallace moves back and forth in time for the sake of confusing the plot.
It is not a novel without a plot: it has a plot, just a poorly designed one. Wallace was better at short stories, at packing irrelevant details into a futile description, than at designing an epic-length story.
However, the novel can be read as an encyclopedic allegory about freedom and addiction: how freedom leads to addiction and addiction to (moral and/or physical) death.
The satirical overtones, instead, are quickly lost on an audience not familiar with the specific time and place of Wallace's life. However, there is something unique in the way Wallace paints a huge fresco of decadent lifestyles, dysfunctional families, sexual perversion, etc using a comic (not tragic) tone. Even the many deaths are consumed in such grotesque manners that they feel funny. In fact, Wallace is at his best as a writer in the comic chapters, when his style can indulge in comedy-style linguistic constructions.
Hal is taken to the hospital into an ambulance, escorted by a nurse with a Quebecois accent. He thinks of John Wayne, who would have won the tournament, and remembers how Don Gately and Hal himself dug up the head of his (Hal's) father.
In the Year Of The Depend Adult Undergarment (2009) in another building another male character, a drug addict, is waiting for a girl to deliver his daily load of marijuana. He is also addicted to masturbation. And he is also chronically afraid of everything. He is seeing a counselor, Randi.
Back to the Year Of The Tucks Medicated Pad when he was eleven years old, Hal has been sent by his father to a "conservationalist" because is father believes that he never speaks In the family the father is called Himself and the mother is called "the Moms". James casually mentions a film cartridge implanted in his own brain.
In the Year Of The Depend Adult Undergarment an Arab diplomat receives a mysterious untitled film cartridge while his wife is out playing tennis and can't resist watching it.
In the Year Of The Trial-Size Dove Bar (2004) a girl named Clenette relates how her half sister Wardine is beaten by her mom who accuses her of having seduced her mother's boyfriend Roy Tony when in fact it's him, a criminal on parole, who has been bothering her. This character Roy Tony was jailed for the murder of a Columbus Epps, the brother of Clenette's friend Dolores Epps, and the killing had to do with Clenette's mother (Roy Tony is possibly Clenette's biological father). Clenette's brother Reginald is in love with Wardine, wants to protect her and plans to confront Roy Tony. Clenette is pregnant.
Meanwhile at school Bruce Green has fallen in love with Mildred Bonk and will eventually marry her.
In the YDAU Hal and Mario (who both live at the ETA) discuss the fact that her mother Avril didn't seem sorry when their father killed himself. She simply became a workaholic. Nor did their uncle Charles look too sorry. Their elder brother Orin lives somewhere in the desert, in a place infested by roaches. He had an unpleasant childhood, which manifests itself in a recurring dream of her mother's beheading.
The footnotes list a long filmography by Hal's father James with comic details about their format and plot. For example: "Three memory-neurons in the Inferior frontal gyrus of a man's brain fight heroically to prevent their displacement by new memoryneurons as the man undergoes intensive psychoanalysis." Or: "God and Satan play poker with Tarot cards for the soul of an alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman obsessed with Bernini's 'The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.'" One of them is titled "Infinite Jest", of which several versions exist: it was James' "first attempt at commercial entertainment" but left unfinished and never released.
In the YDAU Hal is 17 and attends the Enfield Tennis Academy (or ETA), which the notes inform us was founded by his father James Incandenza, a former tennis champion, who then handed it over to his brother-in-law Charles before committing suicide in the Year Of The Trial-Size Dove Bar (2004).
In the Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland (2008) a giant drug addict and burglar named Don Gately breaks into the house of a French Canadian named DuPlessis who happens to be the local liaison of a terrorist organization and involuntarily causes his death. The notes inform us that the USA, Canada and Mexico have merged into the Organization of North American Nations (ONAN), but Quebec separatists are staging a terrorist campaign against ONAN.
In the YDAU another 17-years old kid of the ETA, Jim Troeltsch, is feeling sick while a chronically suicide girl, Kate Gompert, is being visited in vain by a doctor in the psychology ward room. ETA's German-born head coach Gerhardt Schtitt only likes the company of Hal's brother Mario, who is a bit retarded. We slowly learn that Hal's father James was a physicist specializing in optical science, who later in life "returned" to tennis and cinema. Someone is escorting Tiny Ewell inside a hospital where he is being detoxified. The Arab diplomat has become a zombie: he simply keeps watching the same movie over and over again.
In the YDAU but now in the mountains overlooking the desert Remy Marathe meets an undercover agent named Hugh Steeply, who disguises himself as a woman, Helen (replete with gigantic prosthetic breasts). Marathe is a member of the Wheelchair Assassins (Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents or AFR), the Quebec separatists, and has decided to betray them in return for money that he needs for his sick wife Gertrude. They discuss both DuPlessis' accidental murder and the state in which the Arab diplomat has been reduced. They discuss the movie that turned the Arab diplomat into a zombie: its author was James Incandenza, and his wife Avril is a suspicious character for Hugh/Helen because she was born in Quebec herself, her path crossed the path of the Arab diplomat and she is known to have slept with countless men (implying that she probably slept with the Arab too). They also discuss Rodney Tine, another defector, and his lover Luria Perec. There exists also a less lethal group called Front de la Liberation de Quebec (FLQ), whose members adopted Hawaian music and customs (note 47). Steeply asks Marathe if it is true that James Incadenza also made an "anti-entertainment" film that is an antidote to "Infinite Jest".
Mario falls in love with a girl, Millicent Kent, a girl who joined the ETA to escape from her perverted father.
The ETA also featured an oiled guru, Lyle, who feeds on the sweat of others.
We are informed that the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House was founded by a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who never used his name in the Year of the Whopper (2002). He died forgotten in the Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile
Then we are given Hal's first term paper related to cinema and especially Helen Steeply's article on how a drug-addict transvestite purse snatcher inadvertently killed a recipient of an exterior heart (kept in her purse). After a detour into the rise and fall of videophony, during the visit of a state toxicologist to perform urine analysis on the ETA kids we are informed that Hal at 17 is a linguistic prodigy as well as a late-blooming tennis champion.
A flashback to 1960 in the desert of Arizona tells us of how Hal's grandfather inspired the ten-years old James (Jim) to become a tennis player when they were living in a trailer park.
Hal's friend Michael Pemulis is the school's precocious drug dealer and Hal is one of his customers.
Patricia Montesian is the executive director of the Ennet House and she takes copious notes of her work. Don Gately is now employed at the Ennet House. Several pages detail what one learns by working there, including for example that everybody masturbates all the time. Tiny Ewell is now a resident there and is fascinated with Gately's homemade tattoos.
Mario listens to a midnight radio show by Madame Psychosis, which a student engineer helps broadcast from the MIT. The student engineer has never met the star of the program. Mario listens to her depressing readings. It turns out she is the aging actress employed by Mario's father James Joelle Van Dyne.
Pemulis proudly obtains the powerful DMZ (codenamed "Madame Psychosis") which he shares with Hal and another friend.
We are finally given the chronology of years: Year of the Whopper (2002), Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad (2003), Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar (2004), Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken (2005), Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster (2006), Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office, Or Mobile (2007), Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland (2008), Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (2009), and Year of Glad (2010), "the very last year of ONANite Subsidized Time" (note 114). It turns out that the government sells the calendar years to corporations so that they can name them for whatever advertising campaign they want. (Throughout the novel that are mathematical inconsistencies regarding the correspondence of these years with the Gregorian calendar).
Joelle Van Dyne, a member of the "Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed" (UHID), who always hides her face behind a veil, is trying to commit suicide by drug overdose in her friend Molly Notkin's bathroom. (In between we are given Helen Steeply's resume that shows her working for a the Moment magazine). We are told that Joelle lived with Orin for a while. Then she started working very closely with Orin's father James and Orin moved out, but nobody really knows whether James and Joelle became lovers. She took her veil off for James' finally film. She now feels that maybe that's what killed him: seeing her face. He killed himself three months later. All of this happened four years earlier. She locks herself in Molly's bathroom and overdoses while Molly is chetting with her intellectual friends. One of them guesses that something is wrong and calls for help.
Orin calls Hal to tell him that he is being followed by young handicapped people. He is also being interviewed by a sexy journalist, Helen Steeply of the Moment magazine, who wants to know everything about their family. Hence Orin asks Hal to reconstruct their father's last moments. Hal is the one who found James with his head in the microwave oven, a bizarre but effective form of suicide (which may have to do with James having implanted a film cartridge in his head).
While we are still trying to absorb the disproportionate number of characters for such a think plot, Wallace, probably unable to move the plot forward, decides to introduce a new batch of characters who just arrived in rehab at Ennet House: Geoffrey Day, a former college teacher, disliked by Gately; Burt Smith, who lost his hands and feet after he was mugged and left in freezing temperature; Charlotte Treat, a former prostitute who has AIDS and who likes to sew; Emil Minty; Bruce Green, who has a tattoo dedicated to his wife Mildred Bonk; and Randy Lenz. The supervisor, Gately, is 29 and mostly bored and annoyed by this crowd.
The E.T.A. team (including Hal, John Wayne, Teddy Schacht, Jim Troeltsch, Pemulis and Mario) plays (and wins) some important game away and then return home in a bus.
Orin dropped out of tennis in his teenage years when he fell in love with Joelle, a cheer leader for the football team. Then he switched to football. Joelle, nicknamed PGOAT (Prettiest Girl of All Times), was so beautiful that guys were scared of her. She was still a virgin. She devoted herself to cheerleading and to learning film-making. Orin then introduced Joelle to his father James who helped her learn the craft.
Tony Krause is the drug-addict drag queen who accidentally killed a woman in Helen Steeply's article. Emil, who is another drug addict, wants him killed, so Tony is hiding in a dumpster while trying to withdraw from drugs and alcohol. Then he moves to the Armenian Foundation Library men's restrooms and finally takes the subway but suffers a terrible seizure.
After a lengthy detour on ETA classes such as "Separatism and Return: Quebecois History from Frontenac Through the Age of Interdependence" taught in French by Thierry Poutrincourt, a class that Hal is taking. Orin calls Hal to find out more about Quebec's separatist movement because he wants to impress his new flame, Helen. Some of the notes at the end of the book are chapters in their own, like note 110 that goes on for several pages and details the conversation between Orin and Hal about the separatists. Note 234 has a lengthy transcript of Steeply's interview of Orin, in which Orin advises her to contact Marlon Bain, a neighbor and fellow ETA matriculant, who knows everything about the lives of his mother and father. His reply is transcripted in Note 269 and is full of insults against James, Avril and Orion (whom he calls a chronic liar).
Mario was born deformed and in quasi-supernatural circumstances. During his childhood he was tortured by their elder brother Orin.
Meanwhile the conversation between Marathe and Steeply continues on the hill overlooking the Arizona desert. Marathe emphasizes that the separatists want to distribute James' film that turns people catatonic but not force people to watch it. Implicit in the strategy of the terrorists is the belief that the citizens of this country will voluntarily become addicted to the film. The strategy was devised by Marathe's boss, Fortier, the leader of the Wheelchair Assassins in the USA, as designed by DuPlessis.
A lengthy detour explains a game played by ETA students called Eschaton (for whose dynamics Pemulis in note 123 provides mathematical equations) that escalates into a violent brawl, injuring one of the kids, Evan Ingersoll.
One of the longest chapters in the book describes in satirical tones the meetings of AA groups (presumably Alcoholics Anonymous). Gately is in charge of shepherding the guests of the Ennet House to the meetings because it worked on him and therefore he's a good role models for the others. Besides Tiny Ewell, Bruce Green, Geoff Day, and so forth Clenette is also there and a newcomer is also there: Joelle. Obviously she survived her suicide attempt and has been sent to Ennet.
Marathe is unsure of what information Steeply is trying to obtain from him.
James was hurt by the lack of interest in his avantgarde movies and confided in his best friend Lyle. Disillusioned with mainstream cinema, James coined "found drama", a film-making technique (explained in the notes) based on chance. Wallace mentions that James' weakness was his inability to develop a plot, and we the readers wonder if Wallace is talking about himself (his own novel's obvious weakness).
Mario's first movie is a historical puppeteered drama about the meeting that created ONAN. Its protagonist is president Johnny Gentle, a former singer and actor who is grappling with an environmental crisis and a ballooning national debt. He comes up with the idea of selling advertising space. The narration of the film is drenched in news headlines from both news challens and tabloids.
James' fitness guru Lyle counsels one of the ETA kids, LaMont Chu, who is obsessed with becoming famous: "You might consider how escape from a cage must surely require, foremost, awareness of the fact of the cage." Lyle also has to deal with Ortho Stice, whose bed moves at night for unknown reasons.
Marathe's wife was born without a skull and has been in a coma for over two years. Marathe lost his legs in a train accident in which his two brothers died. Nonetheless, he managed to get to the top of that hill overlooking the desert. Marathe and Steeply engaged in psychological talk till late night.
Yet another detour from the main story deals with Eric Clipperton, a teenager who one day joined a tennis tournament and promised to shoot himself if he lost. The opponent let him win and that started a string of victories, each time Eric playing with the gun pointed at his own head, each time his opponent refusing to win and cause his death. He was eventually disqualified. He visited James and then committed suicide inside the ETA building. Mario had become his best friend and insisted that his father did not film the poorly attended funeral.
Don Gately is addressing an AA meeting for the Tough Shit But You Still Can't Drink Group, which is mostly bikers, and he gets a standing ovation when he admits that he just can't believe in god. His mom was an alcoholic and his father left before he was born. Gately was nicknamed BIM: Big Indestructible Moron. His mother now lives in a hospital and Gately has not seen her in ten years.
Marathe has been accusing the USA of being addicted to pleasure. Steeply retorts by mentioning a neurological experiment that took place in Canada. A laboratory discovered that a certain brain implant generated intense pleasure in and rats became addicted to it. Most animals even died of it. When rumor spread, an incredible number of human volunteers signed up for the experiment even knowing that animals had died. In fact, the same scientists then turned to studying the psychology of these volunteers only to find out that they were perfectly normal Canadian people. The government canceled the program for fear that the technology would cause a deadly epidemics.
Hal has recurring dreams of losing his teeth. Mario is listening in vain to the radio because Madame Psychosis has taken a sabbatical (we know that she tried to kill herself and now she's in rehab).
After yet another tedious lengthy description of life at the ETA (but during which we learn that uncle Charles suspects Mario could be his own son and that Pat Montesian was an alcoholic divorced by her husband and who eventually suffered a stroke that lefts her wheelchaired in her late thirties, that Gately joined the Ennet House to avoid prison for the accidental murder of DuPlessis, and that Pat lets Gately drive her 1964 Ford Aventura), the story introduces two new characters: as Gately is driving through a neighborhood, his car's tires throw an object against a door that turns out to be the door of a shop run by Lucien Antitoi and his brother Bertraud, members of DuPlessis' conspiracy who smuggle drugs to addicts as well as sell film cartridges. Masked wheelchaired thugs of the Wheelchair Assassins break into the shop and and demand the master copy that was stolen from DuPlessis' place by the burglars. Both brothers get brutally killed for not having it.
Marathe tells Steeply that nobody has the master of "Infinite Jest". Each of the terrorist cells only has a read-only copy that cannot be duplicated. Marathe's superiors know that he is betraying them but think that Marathe is a triple agent (note 40), pretending to betray them in order to obtain precious information from Steeply.
A flashback shows James helping his father fixing a squeaking bed in 1963 before the old man throws up and faints. We learn that his father worked into advertising for a manufacturer of sandwich bags.
At a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting devoted to marijuana Roy Tony has an altercation with one of the Ennet House residents, Ken Erdedy.
Gately and Joelle share gruesome stories of their past. Then Joelle explains why she wears the veil: she is so beautiful that she drives people crazy (not clear if that applies to women too).
Randy Lenz is a disturbing resident of the Ennet House who has murder impulses and tortures animals. Nonetheless, Bruce Green befriends him. Eventually Lenz tells Bruce Green everything about his life, from childhood to murder, including all sorts of phobias and membership in cults. Lenz, however, wants to get rid of Green because he needs to kill animals just like he used to need drugs.
Pemulis stumbles into a half-naken boy, John Wayne, the top-ranked player at ETA, into Avril's office with Avril dressed like a cheerleader, clearly some kind of erotic rite.
Orin is having sex with a Swiss model. He is addicted to sex and needs new women all the time. One is not enough. However, he soon realizes that he has been set up: Steeply has just left, and there were no wheelchaired men while she was interviewing him; and now a new wheelchaired man just appeared, the one who provided him with the Swiss model, and he had the same accent as hers.
A Muslim member of the ETA, Idris Arslanian, is practicing to play blindfolded because he heard of a blind tennis player.
Lenz and Green keep walking together and revealing all sorts of weird details to each other. Lenz's mother committed suicide. Green's father killed a lot of people and was executed. And much more. When they part, Green follows Lenz and sees him kill a dog in a house where someone is playing loud Hawaian music.
Mario is still devastated (and sleepless) about Madame Psychosis' sabbatical from her radio show.
Twenty pages describe Gately's duties and end with Gately defending Lenz from three Hawaian-dressed Canadian guys ("Nucks" in Wallace's jargon) who come armed to avenge the dog. Gately gets seriously wounded by a shot and is helped by Green, Lenz and Joelle.
A chapter begins with a description of life in the future. Wallace predicts that most people will work remotely from home by 2009 (wildly optimistic prediction, it turns out as today in 2013 not even 1% do) but, being a good old-fashioned Californian, Wallace also adds "traffic is bad" (meaning that in his future he cannot foresee progress in public transportation). People have a passion for witnessing live events. This preamble simply introduces Rodney Tine, regional chief of Unspecified Offices (the national intelligence and spying agency), who apparently is still using a stenographer in 2009 (the last time i saw a stenographer was in the 1980s). Outside his window something weird is happening: the student engineer who mans the YYY radio station, and who is aware that its star Madame Psychosis is in treatment, is kidnapped by a man in a wheelchair that comes out of a van with a handicapped plate (finally some action instead of just introducing more and more irrelevant drug addicts, alcoholics, etc and their tedious childhood stories).
Back to the ETA, Hal doesn't lose anymore after he stopped doing drugs (as Pemulis wll knows). Stice tells Troeltsch that things like his bed move around in their building. Hal, possibly traumatized by Orin's sex obsession, has vowed to remain a virgin for life. Hal thinks that the girl Orin had loved and their father James employed as an actress (Joelle, Madame Psychosis) got horrible disfigured. Clenette is one of the black girls who work kitchen and custodial day shifts at the ETA.
Steeply, still conversing with Marathe, tells how her/his father became so addicted to a tv show that he was unable to go to work and eventually died of a heart attack.
Steeply visits the ETA to watch Hal play Ortho Stice. Stice almost beats Hal at tennis, which would have been sensational. Steeply is there to interview Hal but DeLint has orders from Charles Tavis that no journalist must be allowed to interfere with the training of the boys. The female prorector Thierry Poutrincourt from Quebec joins their conversation. DeLint thinks that John Wayne is actually a better tennis player than Hal, but Hal has the brains.
Pemulis has an older brother, Matty, who is a prostitute (yet another degenerate). As usual in this book, there's some sordid background: he was sexually abused as a child by their alcoholic father (yet another addict). Matty witnesses Tony Krause coming out of the subway after the seizure following two girls from the Ennet House.
This middle section of the book is by far the most tedious. The plot just doesn't move forward, old characters mingle without generating any interesting interaction, new characters appear who simply repeat the pattern of addiction and insanity, jokes are stale, many pages feel redundant.
Hal would like to find out from DeLint why he the match with Stice was organized in the first place and to discuss his poor performance. Depressed, Hal starts watching a number of his father's videos.
Tony Krause was at the hospital but has been released and, as Matty saw, he is following two girls from the Ennet House, Kate Gompert, who suffers from acute psychotic depression, and Ruth van Cleve, who once abandoned her newborn baby. Tony, dressed like a woman and wearing high heels, doesn't realize that his old buddy Matty sees him snatch the purses of the girls. Tony is headed for his old friends the Antitoi brothers.
Pemulis is carrying out a strange operation in the ETA building. Avril places a call to Steeply. Lyle has the power to levitate over his towel. Joelle decides to show her face to Gately, who is still at the hospital recovering from his wound.
Lenz is also out to rob from unsuspecting ladies: he is following two Chinese women who are carrying huge paper shopping bags.
A brief passage explains that the wheelchaired terrorists are pursuing two strategies at the same time. On one hand they spy on the actress and on the family of the filmmaker, hoping that one of them will lead them to the master copy of "Infinite Jest"; and on the other hand they are trying to find the master copy in the shop of the Antitoi brothers.
Tony Krause is chased by Ruth all the way to the Antitois. The shop, however, has become the headquarters of Fortier's operations. Fortier in person, also in a wheelchair, is presiding over the inspection of the thousands of film cartridges. Remy Marathe is also there. Volunteers watch the videos of the Antitoi brothers day and night trying to locate the legendary "Infinite Jest". Eventually two of them do: they become zombies and are abandoned to dying watching the movie endlessly. It is DuPlessis' copy but it is not the original: it is yet another read-only copy. Fortier is also in parallel following a different track: infiltrating the family of the filmmaker James Incadenza. There is already one operative at work around the athlete who was thought to have provided DuPlessis with the original, which turned out to be a copy. Another operative, Luria, is at work in the desert extracting information from Orin (the Swiss model?) Fortier's people have also kidnapped the student engineer who ran the radio program by the former actress of "Infinite Jest" and learned from him that Madame Psychosis has entered some rehab clinic. Therefore Fortier, Marathe and others check all the rehab facilities in town. The terrorists detain the student engineer and use him for psychological tests. And Marathe, pretending to be a Swiss addict, applies for residence in the Ennet House. He wears a veil, pretending to be deformed. His tactic works: he is accepted by Patricia Montesian and she tells him that another deformed resident, Joelle, a UHID member, may help him. He achieved his mission to get in touch with Joelle. Marathe can't wait to be left alone with the stock of film cartridges of the Ennet House.
Note 304 details the origin of the wheelchaired Quebec terrorists, which is the subject of a student's paper.
By now the the context in which the insurrection takes place has been clarified. Canada has been de facto annexed to the USA in the ONAN while the USA has turned its northeast into a huge toxic waste dump and actually granted it to Canada. The new president Johnny Gentle, who has succeeded the assassinated president Limbaugh, is obsessed with cleaning up the region. The separatists of Quebec (les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents) are mostly in wheelchairs (for unknown reasons). The leader of the US branch has now come up with a plan to attack the masses with the film made by Hal's father James that turns viewers into zombies capable only of rewinding and replaying the video forever.
Lenz, having snatched the purses of the Chinese ladies, escapes into a narrow alley where he sees Tony Krause hiding.
Joelle is a cleaning maniac. While she is cleaning her room, she remembers how she met Orin, how Orin introduced her to his family, how dysfunctional Orin's family was (the asocial father James, the silent brother Hal, the retarded and deformed Mario) and how Avril had urged James to enroll Joelle as an actress since she was studying cinema.
Mario is making a documentary. He interviews LaMont Chu, who talks about the Eschaton incident. Chu tries in vain to ask Mario any questions (he is curious about why Pemulis and Hal were summoned in uncle Charles' office). Mario is just incapable of understanding that someone is asking him a question. Then Mario walks into his mother Avril's office. She tells Mario that a female journalist (Steeply) has come to interview Hal and uncle Charles is taking care of her. Mario turns off the camera and asks what "sad" means. At night
Hal tells Mario that he's afraid their mom will be told that he has been doing drugs. Hal knows this will hurt her: not the drugs but the fact that he kept the secret from her. So probably Hal is the one who is "sad". (The tennis association ONANTA has demanded a urine sample from Hal and Pemulis).
Marathe in the wheelchair is chatting with Kate Gompert in a club after she was mugged and injured by Tony Krause. Marathe further depresses her with the story of his miserable life, how most of his friends are also without legs due to a train crash, how his father was killed, how he became an addict and his country (Switzerland) is despised by everybody. She gets drunk and bored by him, especially after he tells her that she reminds him of his skull-less wife. Marathe, on the other hand, tries to explain to her that there can be love even without pleasure. She being so materialistic about pleasure, Marathe offers to show her what real pleasure can be, probably a reference to the deadly "Infinite Jest". Kate tells him that she had sex only twice and both times it was awful.
A chapter is simply a reference to note 324 in which Pemulis consoles his friend Todd ("Postal-Weight") Possathwaite who is having an existential crisis, the rare occurrence in which Pemulis is doing something good to anyone. Pemulis has only one value and it's his absolute faith in mathematics.
Hal walks to the Ennet House and meets Johnette Foltz, the replacement for Don Gately (who is still at the hospital recovering from the gun wound). Hal inquires about Substance Anonymous meetings.
What follows is perhaps the most hilarious chapter in the whole book. Rodney Tine, regional chief of Unspecified Offices, files the report on the interrogation of Molly Notkin about Joelle/ Madame Psychosis. First of all she says that "Infinite Jest" features a completely naked and veiled Madame Psychosis as "some kind of maternal instantiation of the archetypal figure Death", a lens effect making her look pregnant, and the film is just a monologue in which she explains that death is always female. Inevitably, the story turns into Joelle's past with Freudian overtones (as usual with all of Wallace's characters and monologues). We learn that Joelle's real name was Lucille Duquette. Orin was her first and only love. Joelle had been treated by her father like a child, her father refusing to acknowledge her puberty and independence. Joelle introduced Orin to her parents on a Thanksgiving holiday (a traditional holiday of the USA) and during dinner her father confessed that he had always been madly in love with her, although a nonsexual kind of love. Her mother, horrified, tried to disfigure herself with acid but instead accidentally disfigured her daughter. Her mother committed then suicide using a garbage disposal, just a few months before James Incadenza committed suicide using another kitchen appliance (a microwave oven). James had stopped drinking alcohol in a deal with Joelle (apparently made two weeks after her mother's suicide), and never did again to his last day. Molly is pretty sure that James and Joelle had no love affair, and suspects that Orin had one with his own mother Avril. Avril's sleeping around was probably the real cause of her husband James' suicide. Orin probably dumped Joelle simply because she was disfigured, although pretending to be jealous of his own father's relationship with her. Finally Molly has no idea what happened to the original copy of "Infinite Jest", nor did Joelle know.
Note 332 is another chapter in itself. Wayne and Troeltsch broke into the radio station of ETA and caused quite a commotion. Charles and Avril interrogate Wayne and find out that Wayne used Pemulis' drugs. This leads to DeLint expelling Pemulis on behalf of Charles and Avril, who never liked him anyway because of previous incidents.
Hal travels secretely to a Quabbin Recovery Systems thinking it's a meeting of drug addicts trying to recover but instead he witnesses a pathetic scene in which a psychological guru is trying to heal a man in need of parental affection ("a group exercise in passivity and inner-infant needs", says guru Harv), and Hal recognizes the patient as Kevin Bain, older brother of Marlon Bain.
Meanwhile, Gately is lying in a hospital bed, going in and out of consciousness, barely aware that people visit him: Tiny Ewell, Joelle and Pat. Inevitably flashbacks/detours into some grotesque past events, notably the psychological cause of Tiny Ewell's alcoholism and a dream about Gately's abusive father. Finally, the ETA's attorney Calvin Thrust shows up. He is worried because the weapon used by the Nucks (Canadians) to attack Lenz has disappeared and the two black girls (Clenette and Yolanda) are in trouble: when they counterattacked the Hawaians, Clenette accidentally killed one of them (one of her spike heels wen through his right eye). With no weapon to show, it is hard to prove that they were acting in self-defense. Lenz fled, both because he was afraid of being blamed for the whole incident and because he was found to be on drugs and therefore likely to be expelled from the Ennet House anyway. We also learn that Clenette brought to the Ennet House a bunch of film cartridges dumped by the tennis school up the hill (the ETA?), which are now being reviewed by the staff of the Ennet House to make sure they are appropriate. In his delirious state Gately is also visited by a ghost/wraith.
Having failed to find the protagonist of the film (Joelle), Fortier orders the wheelchaired terrorists of the AFR to go after the director's family members, starting with Hal and Mario. While Fortier goes on a vacation with his lover Luria, Marathe is left in charge of organizing the kidnap that has to occur while the team of teenage tennis players is bused to the location of a tournament.
Gately has morbid fantasies about Joelle. In one Joelle is sitting naked masked like Death, just like in Molly Notkin's tale of "Infinite Jest". Joelle does visit him often and shares tender memories with him.
At the ETA Hal finds Stice stuck in a window (yet another grotesque incident). Stice is convinced that there are paranormal phenomena going on at their building.
Gately is visited by several odd people, including the Pakistani doctor of the hospital. We are also served tons of boring details about Gately's past (with more characters, more addicts, more grotesque incidents, and, ultimately, how thug Bobby C tortured and killed his friend Gene Fackelmann). In fact, the last section of the book is basically just Gately's stream of consciousness (or unconsciousness), revisiting episodes of his past and indulging in fantasies of the present.
Hal, perhaps under the influence of drugs, recounts in first person a delirious experience that has to do with Pemulis. There is another lengthy stream of consciousness by Hall told in first person.
Pemulis notices that several panels of the ceiling of the dormitory have fallen.
Luria and Fortier torture Orin with cockroaches.
The novel basically doesn't end. Wallace doesn't seem how to make an ending, just like he didn't know how to advance the plot. It feels like he simply got tired to introducing new addicts and grotesque incidents and childhood memories.
Now we can return to the beginning of the novel (the Year of Glad). Hal, who has been shown progressively losing his mind (because he finally took Pemulis' DMZ?), fails the interview to enter university and is taken in an ambulance to a hospital.
As for the Quebecois conspiracy, by then the fabled master copy of "Infinite Jest" has not been found but we know: that James implanted a film cartridge in his head, that James made an "anti-entertainment" film that is an antidote to "Infinite Jest", and that Hal and Gately dug up James' head. It might be at this point that the wheelchaired assassins attack the ETA team during a bus journey, but we are never told whether Hal and Gately got the film, whether it is the master or the antidote, and what the assassins got from torturing Orin.
"The Broom of the System" (1987)