There are thousands of reviews and critiques of this book. It's been hailed as post modern genius and it's been derided as a liberal arts love note to AA. In the foreword, David Eggers calls it, "drum tight and relentlessly smart," but others may be more inclined to call it braggadociously verbose and heavy handed. This book, like all books, is open to subjective discourse, so as a brief nod to DFW, you can, like, think whatever you want. Personally, I think that this book doesn't goddamn end, so I don't really care how masterfully crafted, intelligently insightful, or imaginatively told it is if it's not a finished product. If a story can't be wrapped up in 1,100 pages, just keep writing and I'll read it once it's complete. What's another 200 pages?
Before continuing down that path, I just want to say that I can see what critics and literarians love(d) about this book. DFW is an amazing writer. The world development that managed to be both expansive and fine-grained, the floating narration with character dependent affects, the exciting and interesting storylines, the introspection and thoughtfulness, the waits and reveals, the character development both forwards and backwards. It pulled me in and I loved it. I was so invested in the lives of these people that I wanted nothing more than to see how their intertwined follies wrapped up in a messy little bow.
But being pulled so deeply into the story and its players made the non-ending all the more aggravating. Why spend so much time building this world and narrative to just seemingly stop mid story? Is that the joke? Is the joke on me for reading for so long? For the sake of those that can't be dissuaded from making the time investment, I'm going to put my list of dangling thread gripes in a white font, so if you want spoilers, just highlight the space that appears empty below:
- Gately - He's in his hospital bed, as physically incapacitated as he had been at the end of the dilaudid binge that resulted in Fax's death (presumably in a horrific manner), suffering through a clear message of damned if you do/if you don't. But that message seems to have been pretty clear throughout the whole book. Why not end on a stronger message or at least with some sort of character closure?
- Hal - He's losing his mind on his way back to the Y.G., with an unsubtle message around drugs not being bad for everyone, and in some cases, a life/mind saver. Why don't we get to see the climactic shift? I would've loved to hear in Hal's words, not in my own.
- JVD - Were the lights a reference to an Ennet Houser accidentally finding the Entertainment and then wiping out the whole house? Same goes for Gentle, Tine, and crew. Was that final viewing infiltrated?
- Marathe/Steeply - So... not wrapping that up in any way? No one is going after the casket?
- Mad Stork/Wraith - Why introduce the wraith so late in the book to then never really use him again?
- Darkness - Was he the telepath moving things around?
- E.T.A. - Was there a mass murder at that final hob knob soiree?
- The Entertainment - I like that the Entertainment wasn't explored too deeply, but I would've really loved to see some sort of personality type that was immune. My assumption was that the clinically depressed would be safe from it, and that would be some sort of reveal. I guess the Entertainment was just another form of addiction. Oh well.
- Orin - Should I be surprised that the only character to receive proper closure is Orin? What could have been more cathartic to DFW than to horrifically murder the symbolic manifestation of every character trait he so deeply loathed in another person (assumption on my part)? Just try and kick your way out of that one, O. That turn was about as blunt as renaming North America to O.N.A.N.
- Misc. - There were more open threads, like Pemulis' future, the Mario/C.T. reveal that went unexplored, John Wayne, Stice's forehead/face skin in relation to telekinesis, and more, but I think I hit the big ones.
Maybe the joke wasn't on me. Maybe the joke was on an entire industry and I just happened to be a casual bystander turned collateral damage. Maybe DFW tricked the entire publishing and literature industry, spending a decade laughing as they paraded down the street naked in the finery, bragging about their understanding of the unfinished garment. I don't know. Maybe I just don't get it and should keep re-reading it until I get it. I'm not going to do that. If you get it, don't explain it to me. I'm done with this book.
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