Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Quick Summary and Reinvigorated by Roth

Okay, I'll admit it - I've been dragging ass on Infinite Jest lately. But since I'm over the halfway point (618 pages in, 57.3% of the novel), now seems like a good time for a quick plot synopsis. There are three main "plots" in Infinite Jest - all of which are interconnected in ways it would take pages and pages to explain.

The most interesting is about Hal Incandenza and his misadventures at the Enfield Tennis Academy. Another plotline (broken up into several narrative strains) is the story of the recovering addicts at Ennet House (incidentally, Hal is a bit of a pothead, too). The final story is of Quebcois separatists who use a unique form of terrorism - they've recovered and unleashed on the American public a film produced by Hal's father James called Infinite Jest (the only copy of which was thought to be buried with James when James killed himself). Infinite Jest is so entertaining that anyone who watches it is rendered a braindead vegetable - wanting to do nothing else but return to watching the film. (see the parallels between the addiction to entertainment and the addiction to drugs and alcohol?)

Anyway, the last hundred pages or so have been really fractured again, occuring in 2-3 or 7-8 page snippets. So I decided to escape to one of my other all-time favoriter writers: Philip Roth. Roth just published a slim novel titled Indignation, which I read over the weekend while home in Ohio. Indignation is a fantastic book - a true return to form for Roth after a few duds. It's the story of Marcus Messner, a college student at fictional Winesburg (Ohio) College in 1951 (yes, the homage to Sherwood Anderson's samely titled novel is intentional). Marcus is terrified that he'll be expelled from college and be drafted and killed in the Korean War. He meets a girl who has a history of mental problems and even a suicide attempt. Meanwhile, he's stuggling to deal with his increasingly paranoid father and constantly fighting with the Dean over Marcus' refusal to attend mandatory chapel (Marcus is Jewish, but is also a Bertrand Russell-devoted atheist). It's sort of a zany, comic novel - but not overtly so, because Roth's prose is so measured and downright deadpan. I'd highly, highly recommend it both for Roth fans or as an introduction to Roth if you've never read him before.

At any rate, after finishing Indignation, I'm re-energized to soldier on with Infinite Jest. My goal when I started back in October was to finish by the New Year, and it'll take some doin', but I still think I can.

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