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January 15, 2009 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | January 15, 2009 |

I feel like I’ve just taken the world’s largest intellectual dump of my life. Everyone kept telling me to count this mammoth tome as three or four books. But no. It’s one. One massive, glorious, ludicrous, pretentious, fascinating, mind-apocalypsing epic. It required almost six weeks and two bookmarks to read through this and it’s nearly 100 page footnote section. And it was worth it.

I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I feel like I’ve been through rehab. I feel like I’ve done every recreational drug imaginable. I feel like I’ve given birth. I feel changed as a person. And I feel relieved to finally close the pages.

This isn’t so much a book as a life-altering experience. And as such, I can’t recommend it to everyone. It’s not for everyone. Most people would heft this monstrosity and sigh despondently trying to wade through its dense and cerebral text. I don’t say that as some sort of holier-than-thou scholar. Wallace isn’t for everyone. He’s operating on a level beyond most people’s comprehension. He’s a fucking cultural elitist, and he knows it, and he’s cool with that.

I have to compare this to things because you cannot encapsulate the actual plot, because there isn’t really one, but it’s so complexly structure, it feels like there is one. It’s at times like reading Dostoevsky, Bret Easton Ellis, Welsh, or especially Joyce. It’s in it’s own language — a post collegiate, scientific, farting contest. I’ve never been able to make my way through Joyce, because it crushes my mind. Same with Pynchon. But that’s where Wallace roosts. He’s equally more accessible and less.

The book takes place in Boston, particularly in the regions where I used to haunt when I was a grad student at B.U. It’s about a wealthy family who owns a tennis academy, and the students grappling with what it means to be a young athlete. It’s about art and entertainment, particularly avant garde filmmaking. It’s about drug addiction, about rehab programs, and AA programs, and casual users. It’s about what people do to make themselves happy, and whether or not it’s working. It’s about our battle with Canada. It’s a slice of life with nougaty chunks of hilarity and sobriety and neurosis. It’s a hell of a read.

Wallace takes us in and out of this world that exists about three steps over on the tesseract from our real world. He operates in this realistic parallel universe, and it’s charmingly scientifically advanced and beneath us in equal strides. He introduces us to a massive varying cast of characters: bobbing in and out of first and third person, using anecdotal narrative, dialogue snatches, and using a vocabulary that meshes street slang with effete fifteen dollar words. It’s the second book of his that I have had the pleasure of reading — the first being The Broom of the System, which had a profound effect on me. So much so that I still vow to get the symbol “….” tattooed on me at some point.

But again, I can’t say that everyone will love this book and should snatch it up. First of all, you’ll break your fucking wrists. It’s well over 1000 pages in massive paperback. Secondly, it’s densely packed. I’m a hell of a reader, and I could only go about 30 or 40 pages a night without giving myself an aneurysm. It wanders aimlessly. It’s more like a pastiche of these people’s lives that intersect at random. It’s also high-falutin’ in it’s approach.

I’m proud that I read this. This, and East of Eden, are my massive undertakings in the Cannonball. I’m terribly sad that Wallace passed. Depression haunts us all. This book sings with Wallace’s fight. And while he maintains a pragmatism about the war, you can also see points where the unbearable weight of melancholy sinks him. It’s not something meant to give you hope or a candle to curse the darkness. It’s more like hearing voices in the darkness and knowing that there are other people struggling with you, and you aren’t alone.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | January 15, 2009 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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