drugs

ICE BY ANNA KAVAN

Read it, they intone. Not as a distraction from the chaos but as an explanation. Everywhere you look: bodies crushed under avalanches of snow; hardy men torn apart by a substance as soft as tissue paper; babies blue, and harder than stone, ripping through the air like bullets. I have seen so many things. Awful things. They call it the end of the world. But this is not the end, this is still something. The end will be a relief. The end, the end. I’m fooling myself. There is no end. I am the cockroach. I have survived; I will survive. Soon I will be the only one left. The bitter wind that carries their voices to me will then be mute.

Read it, the cold wind says, and then you will understand. What will I understand? There is no place for that now, for the goal of understanding is progress. And we are going nowhere, not even backwards. The only movement comes from the ice and the snow, that constantly shifting, vertical and horizontal, oppression. An arctic prison, built around a void. They have public readings. For an hour or two they stop killing each other, or digging, and read together; or one reads and the others listen. The book begins, I have been told, ominously. A man is lost, hopelessly lost, and he is almost out of petrol. It is night-time, and this is telling, for isn’t the dark traditionally where danger lurks? The man drives into a petrol station and is issued a warning. A real bad freeze-up is on the way.

Read it, and all will become clear. Yet everything is murky. Who is he? Where has he come from? Where is he going? You are aware that something bad has happened, something irreversible, but details are sketchy. A ‘disaster’ is mentioned, which has ‘obliterated the villages and wrecked the farms.’ Later, it is suggested that there may have been ‘a secret act of aggression by some foreign power.’ A nuclear explosion, perhaps. Confusion, rumour, theory. The truth is you will never know. And what good is knowing anyhow? There is then, and there is now. No one in the book is named; no countries are identified either. Instability, uncertainty dominates. But you must deal in certainties, if you are to stay alive. There is the ice, and there is the girl. And these two things are connected. Of this much you can be sure.

Read it, they chant day and night, although, strictly speaking, there is no night-time anymore. There is no darkness, no rest. There is bright icelight, and no one can put it out. The earth is a giant glittering discoball. The girl. She is, the man admits, an obsession. He is infatuated; he could think only of her. In fact, the man is only really interesting in relation to how he views, treats, and thinks about, her. Throughout the book he is intent on finding her. This is, essentially, the plot: he finds the girl, and then he loses her again. He finds, he loses. He finds, he loses. It should be tedious, but it is oddly moving. And often disturbing. He wants to save her, from the disaster, from the warden.

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Read it, for the girl. She is important, of course. She has a body ‘slight as a child’s.’ It is repeatedly emphasised. Her physical immaturity, and vulnerability. She has thin and brittle wrists. She is almost weightless. She is neurotic, fearful, mostly silent. She is emotionally vulnerable too. To be frank, the repetition in the first half of the book seems artless. She is weak; she is otherwordly. You wonder how many times you need to be told. Yet you must remember that we only have access to his words, that this – like a child – is how he sees her. Isn’t it – her childish, delicate appearance – his obsession, not the author’s? The man needs her frailty, in order to justify his need to feel protective of her.

Read it, and perhaps you will make up your own mind. I don’t know. I have little interest in books. I will not yield to their demands. I simply listen and I observe. And I endure, like the cockroach that I am. There is a point in the book when the man speaks of the girl as though she is a dog. I believe that this is significant. He had to win her trust. She comes when she is called. Isn’t it the case, therefore, that he sees himself as the owner, the master, of this timid animal? The relationship between the girl and the man is not based on love, but power. He credits himself with the power to save and also the power to destroy. The girl is destroyed, or hurt, numerous times throughout the novel. By the ice. By a dragon. By the warden. By the man himself, of course. In the first half, she is repeatedly persecuted, killed. She submits to it without resistance.

Read it, and you will agree that it is a novel about systematic abuse, about victims and victimisers. This is why they like it, why it speaks to that gang out there, outside my window. It isn’t the ice, it isn’t the parallels between that and this; Anna Kavan could not see into the future, she did not predict what was going to happen. Not even they believe that. It speaks to their now unleashed desire to crush and maim those who are weaker than they are. If the world is a nightmare, if unreality is reality, then anything is permissible. The girl wasn’t born to be a victim, she was trained, you might say, by her mother, who kept her ‘in a permanent state of frightened subjection.’ And as a victim she needs the man, and the warden, as much as they, as the victimisers, need her; they sustain each other.

Read it, they demand, not once, but repeatedly, until the words become your words. Bearing all this in mind, you understand the man’s actions, his mission, differently; he is not simply searching for the girl, he is stalking her. He is a sadist. He finds her bruises ‘madly attractive.’ He argues that her ‘timidity and fragility seems to invite callousness.’ He derives an ‘indescribable pleasure from seeing her suffer.’ And you, as the reader, feel complicit because you enjoy it too – when the ice overwhelms her, when it entraps her – as these are the moments when Kavan’s writing truly astonishes. It is beautiful only in these moments. Her death: over and over again. I don’t know if that was intentional.

Read it aloud, so that those who are within earshot can also be redeemed. The ice! The ice! Sometimes I feel as though it lives, it breathes, and we are simply performing rituals, and sacrifices, in order to please it. You can draw comparisons between the girl and Kavan herself; both silver-haired, both with mother issues. The author was a heroin addict, and the girl’s appearance is certainly consistent with that. Thin, pale. And the ice, of course, and the snow, which engulfs, and entraps. You might argue that this – the ice – is her addiction; that it is the drug that is destroying her. There is a dragon, remember. A dragon. The level of self pity, and self-obsession, is incredible. To write a novel about one’s own destruction and link it to the fate of the world. No, I find that the most uninteresting theory of all.

Read it, study it, and memorise it. Almost all copies were submerged under the ice. What we have has been rewritten, from one or two master copies. Still, teams of men and women are excavating as I speak, chipping away at the glass that mirrors their toil. An Original is precious. It could buy you life, or death. I prefer the latter. The man is dreaming, terrible dreams; they are a side effect of the drugs he takes. He admits this early on. There is no mystery. The girl is ‘the victim I used in my dreams for my own enjoyment.’ Case closed. There is reality and lucidity; there is unreality and hallucination. The warden with his ‘vicious scowl’, his ‘aura of danger.’ The man and the warden [and her husband] are the same man. The man and the warden and the ice. The black hand. The dragon. All one and the same. Am I spoiling things? Who am I spoiling it for? You all know the book better than I do, for I have never even glanced at a page.

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FROM A BASEMENT ON THE HILL BY ELLIOTT SMITH

After I had got over the initial disappointment that it wasn’t Robbie Williams who had committed suicide [I’m kidding], I was sad to hear of Robin Williams’ passing this week. It seems to me that there are, increasingly, two ways that the general public react to the death of a celebrity: they are either catty and ultra-critical, especially if the death was in some way self-inflicted [see Peaches Geldof], or they canonise the person immediately, almost to the point of idolatry [Princess Diana]. I find all that weird. Death has always been a hot-topic, I guess, but it makes me uncomfortable how everyone has to have an opinion on it, has to pass judgement one way or the other, usually over social media. But, then, the problem with our current culture is how certain everyone is of how important and necessary their opinions are. Me? I don’t have anything to say, really; I’m not a fan of the man’s films, but that is irrelevant anyway. All there is to say is that it is sad, it is sad when anyone dies, there isn’t a hierarchy based on people’s achievements. And it’s a shame, too, that he felt he had to get out, that he made it to the age of 63 and yet still felt as though life was intolerable, that another minute, another moment, was a minute and moment too many.

The suicide of Elliott Smith casts a large shadow over this record. It is impossible to review it without touching on the subject, as much as I would like to. I remember the moment I found out that he had done it, and, in particular, how unsurprising it was, how inevitable it had always seemed. I knew then, and know now, next to nothing about the man himself, but his records, even prior to this: his last, were all intensely sad. Whenever I listened to them I felt as though he was incredibly lost and searching for something, some meaning or relief or purpose, and, well, I guess in the end he found it. Or maybe I simply felt lost myself and projected that feeling, as we all do, onto someone else. I don’t know. What I do know is that From a Basement on the Hill terrifies me. Oh, not in the way that you might expect; it doesn’t sound horrible, in fact it is [mostly] exceedingly pretty, but it scares me nonetheless, because there’s very little doubt that Smith had already made up his mind. It is as though, to return to the example from my opening paragraph, Robin Williams had gone on stage prior to his suicide and done a 60 minute stand-up set all about how he was resolved to die.

So, I find it tough to review an album when I don’t even know how to listen to it. I feel, to some extent, as though I am peeping into something that I have no right to, except that Smith was, by all accounts, intending to release these songs himself. He didn’t get a chance to, of course, and so his estate compiled and released them posthumously, but that means that one cannot say with certainty that he would have released it, regardless of his intentions while recording it. However, these are not demos, they are professionally recorded, so my guilt, my uneasiness, is, perhaps, unwarranted. Still, listening to From a Basement on the Hill is hard-work. If you don’t find it so, then I worry about you.  

The first words on the album are Last stop for a resolution/End of the line and while it could be argued that he isn’t singing about suicide on this occasion, that the song is about a relationship or his dissatisfaction with the music industry, it is still an unnerving start, knowing what we know. The second song, Let’s Get Lost, is one of the loveliest on the album; it’s a White Album-like, acoustic ballad; Smith’s guitar-playing, which I have always thought underrated, chimes like little bells. It would be easy to get caught up in the melodiousness of it, except that the vocal sounds oddly strained. Smith always had a whispered singing style, but here he seems tired, done in, worn out, unwell even, so that rather than fun I find the song disconcerting. The lyrics, again, don’t help:

Well I don’t know where I’ll go now
And I don’t really care who follows me there
But I’ll burn every bridge that I cross
And find some beautiful place to get lost

The centrepieces of the album [sequentially and in terms of their importance and power] are, for me, two songs that are unambiguously, at least in part, about ending it all. I don’t know who sequenced the record, but I’m unsure as to whether it is a blessing or not that the two songs follow each other in the track list. The first is A Fond Farewell, which is another plaintive Lennon-esque acoustic ballad. Even more so than Let’s Get Lost the dichotomy between the lyrics and the pretty melody is unnerving, it creates a strange kind of tension as though Smith was trying, and failing, to put an upbeat spin on things. Indeed, there is no upbeat spin you can put on lines like:

A little less than a human being
A little less than a happy high
A little less than a suicide
The only things that you really tried
This is not my life
It’s just a fond farewell to a friend 

King’s Crossing is even worse. Here, there is no attempt made to make the lyrics palatable by wrapping them around a sweet melody. The Beatles are less of a reference point this time; the song, and the vocal, has the wobbly, teetering-on-the-edge quality of Alex Chilton, the singer/songwriter from Big Star, whose album Sister Lovers is a clear antecedent of this one. Lyrically there isn’t a lot to say, for the words speak for themselves:

 I can’t prepare for death any more than I already have

If one was to try and view the album objectively, and compare it to the rest of his output, then it is not Smith’s best, or it certainly isn’t my favourite. Either/Or feels like a more unified statement to me, and his eponymous debut is more intimate and less in thrall to its influences. Indeed, late in his career Smith had, in my opinion, taken his Beatles obsession too far; the electric guitar lines on A Fond Farewell, for example, ape George Harrison rather than use him as a starting point. Having said that, it’s not his worst record either, is the equal of Figure 8 and better than XO [which appears to have many supporters but which is not one I rate very highly].

JESUS’ SON BY DENIS JOHNSON

I told a friend I was reading this book, and she was surprised, seeing in it the kind of thing I’ve always avoided, the stuff I call Shane Meadows, which means films or books that involve drugs, alcohol, and the under class. I instinctively recoil from that kind of stuff [comparisons to Trainspotting is a huge red flag], for a number of reasons. I won’t go into them all, but traditionally one of my strongest objections has been that I find them patronising or offensive. I’m tired of seeing/reading the working class portrayed as brainless wife-beaters and druggies and racists. I feel like this gritty grim art reinforces the stereotype of the working class as immoral scumbags. I honestly think that a lot of it is little more than what boxing used to be, i.e. a way for people in a more privileged position to get their kicks, to watch a bunch of low-educated unvalued [albeit, in this case, fictional] people scrap it out for their entertainment. Of course, some working class people are scumbags, I would never try and deny that [I grew up around a bunch of low-lifes, so I couldn’t], but not all, and there are plenty of equally abhorrent people in more privileged positions.

Thing is, some of the worst behaviour – the worst drug abuse, the most depressing incidents – I observed when I was in London, and all the kids I knew there were moneyed, educated, had strong families. And yet, they seemed just as adrift, just as likely [if not more so] as anyone to fall off the edge of the world.  The longer you live the more you seem surrounded by people who are in the process of losing themselves, regardless of their background. That’s what I’ve noticed. When I was a kid things were scary; and everything connected to that fear seemed permanent. From my late teens onwards my life moved into different territory, one that resembled a graveyard but which was actually a kind of halfway house. Everyone drifting, moving out of your reach, like you’re a cat trying to catch a light-spot on a wall that shifts each time you pounce. People like Tom, who we tried to help, but only ever in those small scale ways that involved taking him for a drink, hoping he’d see in that gesture some kind of empathy, or assurance, because we were more afraid of facing his problems than he was. And then one day he was gone. He was no longer losing, he’d lost.  But, we had J still, and he was an alcoholic [even though no one ever acknowledged that] and they are a riot, much more fun that drug addicts. J had plenty of cash, and was always treating us at the best bars, buying cigars and brandy. I remember him once coming up to me at the end of the night and hugging me aggressively and saying take me home and fuck me! Ha! No one has ever seen a man run so fast, I could’ve broken records. Not in this lifetime, J. And then there was the time he fell asleep in the backseat of a car and the driver didn’t realise he was there and took him halfway to Milton Keynes! Brilliant. Or so we thought. Or didn’t think. Just enjoyed it. It’s easy to reminisce about those times, because the pleasant or funny incidents push back the horrible stuff lurking at the periphery of each memory.

So, I guess the reason I was prepared to read this book is because of the realisation that something like Jesus’ Son could be universal, that it can resonate with anyone, that you can recognise anyone in it, not just some dumb kid on a council estate who hasn’t got a penny to his name. The book is referred to as a short story collection, but it didn’t read that way to me. It was more like a series of connected episodes featuring a lot of the same people and places. The narrator, nicknamed Fuckhead [I hate that, btw], is the one constant, and each episode is like a little adventure, something [something usually unpleasant] that he had been involved in or witnessed. I’ll talk about a couple of individual episodes in a moment, but if you had to sum them all up it’d be a group of people taking drugs, drinking, and getting caught up in horrible situations that they often blithely pass through without acknowledging the seriousness of them [if this book was a band they’d be called Fuckhead and The Fuck Ups].

The first episode, which involves a guy catching a ride with a family, was one of my favourites. The car crashes and Fuckhead [still can’t write that name out without cringing] ends up walking the road with a baby in his arms. There was something weirdly beautiful about it, something like what Ballard was shooting for with Crash. The structure is idiosyncratic – the timeline confused, the narration jumpy – so that one isn’t sure how much of what is being relayed to you is real. A kind of gritty surrealism. I thought that worked amazingly well; and Johnson’s writing is just great, full of heart and eye-catching imagery. I was pretty much convinced that I’d stumbled on a masterpiece at this stage.

But then I ran head-first into the second story, Two Men, and that is a complete clusterfuck, one of the worst short stories I’ve ever read. In it a guy [we assume Fuckhead again] is at a party or gig or something and he has a gun, and he kisses and touches up this girl who has a boyfriend. Then he leaves and gets into his car with a couple of friends, and thereäó»s this other guy in the backseat who he doesnäó»t know. This guy is a mute or pretending to be one; they drive him around a bit, to different houses, and the narrator sounds off about the boyfriend of the girl he was kissing and how he’s expecting some retribution. Then they manage to lose the mute guy; but they spot this dealer who the narrator says sold him some dud stuff, so he waves the gun at him. He drives off and they follow him in their car to his house. They push their way into the house and the narrator threatens the wife with the gun, insisting she give up her husband. But he has jumped out of the window and the climax of the story is a suggestion that they might, er, rape the wife. Bitch please! There’s so much wrong with that. It’s just ludicrous. Johnson didn’t seem to have any idea where he wanted the story to go; it’s simply an aimless [and badly written] night-crawl, a bunch of naff and random incidents. Even Tarantino would have turned up his nose. And, yeah, I know what the defence will be, that you can’t trust the narrator, that he might be lying or exaggerating. I don’t care. Unreliable narrator or not, a story is still meant to be entertaining.

After the second story I was going to ditch the book, it irritated me that much. I didn’t though, obviously, mostly due to the good will engendered by the one preceding it. The rest of Jesus’ Son thankfully does not plumb the depths of Two Men, nor, for the most part, reach the heights of the first episode; no, it settles down to a consistent good or very good. However, there is one stand-out, the best of the bunch, which is called Emergency; if the first episode was great, then Emergency is a mini-masterpiece. In terms of plot, Fuckhead and Georgie work at the hospital, and a guy comes in with a knife through his eye. I won’t say any more than that as I don’t want to spoil it for first time readers, but for those who have read it: baby rabbits! The graveyard! Johnson’s writing is shit-hot in this one, full of humour and pathos; and the structure of the thing, with the pay-off of that last line…just wonderful stuff.

I’ve mentioned Johnson’s writing in passing a couple of times, but it probably deserves further discussion. I really liked it, in the main. It’s tough and hearty, but sentimental and sometimes beautiful, which, if you think about it, is kind of what it’s like to be out of it. I thought that was neat. However, I do think his writing is also occasionally too identikit. What I mean by that is that it is predictable at times; it gives you exactly what you think you’re going to get from this kind of thing. It’s also sloppy in places, especially in terms of the imagery which sometimes doesn’t work; and the whole thing creaks a bit, like you can’t always lose yourself in it; you’re sometimes too aware that you’re reading a book, that someone sat down and wrote this out on a typewriter or on paper, that it came from someone’s brain, for example, the end of Two Men, which is deliberately provocative, and the main character’s name [it just doesn’t feel authentic].

INFINITE JEST BY DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

I’ve picked up and put down this novel so many times over the last couple of years that I now have arms like Charles Atlas. Seriously, I could take you all in an arm wrestle; these biceps, baby, are bulging. Clearly, this see-sawing between reading and not-reading indicated an attitude of ambivalence…

I liked it

I liked it not

I liked it

I liked it not

Like picking petals from a flower.

However, I recently finally finished the book, and while certainly some of the things I struggled with previously, some of my concerns, some of my criticisms, I still agree with, are still valid, I found that in general I enjoyed it very much. So, this review is, in one sense, about my long and troubled, but ultimately happy, relationship with Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

Obviously, if you keep going back to a book that you have previously abandoned then there is something about it, on a pretty basic level, that draws you in, that motivates you to keep picking it up. So, why has that been the case, why, like a forlorn lover, have I kept going back to Infinite Jest, even though it sometimes pissed me off? Well, first of all, I like big books. They arouse me to such an extent that I could probably turn the pages with my penis [paper cuts, be damned!]. Infinite Jest is over 1000 pages, hundreds of which are given over to endnotes. That’s, like, pretty fucking big, y’all, so obviously I was on board before even opening the thing.

Thematically, I also bought into the book. It is split into three main narrative strands, involving a Tenenbaum-like family who run [and, in Hal’s case, attend] a tennis academy, a drug rehabilitation centre and, lastly, a bunch of Canadian wheelchair terrorists in search of a videotape that once you have been exposed to it you cannot look away. On one level Infinite Jest is about addiction, about how regardless of one’s social standing, upbringing etc, modern life is so pressurised, or heartrending, that one often looks for escape or help in drugs or TV or sport or whatever, and that these things can ultimately become your crutch, your way of coping. As someone who is prone to addiction so extreme on occasions that they, my addictions [which are not drug related, but are still all encompassing when they are in full-swing], can leave me incapable of rational action, in a mental state of complete disorientation and debilitation, I was excited by that aspect of the novel, as I thought it might tell me something about myself.

Lastly, it is fair to say I was positively inclined towards David Foster Wallace as a man. In interviews he came across as likeable, and self-deprecating. As a rule, I don’t care about the artist, the writer, as a person, as a personality, outside of their work; indeed, i find most authors unbearably tedious, as people, but there was a magnetic affability, something admirably human and engagingly eccentric about David Foster Wallace, and that meant that his books appealed to me. Furthermore, that charisma did appear to filter through into his writing; the first chapter, which I have loved since first reading it, is warm-hearted, amusing and moving. In fact, even when I was less of a fan of the book I could still admit that David Foster Wallace was capable of being a fine comic writer. Make no mistake, Infinite Jest is, in places, genuinely funny. Ell-oh-ell funny. When novels are described as being funny what that usually means is that they may make you smile, or smirk, or, at best, titter.

Oh monsieur Proust, what a marvelous bon mot!

But Wallace’s writing is actually able to draw ugly sounds from your throat.

And, yet, with each attempt to complete the book I found that there were just too many things that turned me off, killed my unicorn, flopped my cock. One of my main gripes was with David Foster Wallace’s prose; I found his sentences clunky, syntactically ugly, maybe grammatically correct, but still not enjoyable a lot of the time. Yes, I did think he was capable of excellent writing, like that first chapter, but my enthusiasm would always wane when confronted by too many sentences like this:

Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of ‘psst’ that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.

The big deal, the critical moment, for me this time was the point at which I had an epiphany, a eureka-type episode, and came to appreciate his sentences, came to realise just how much of an achievement his seemingly unrefined style was. I think to some extent my ideas about literature have evolved, or relaxed, since I last attempted to read Infinite Jest. I’m less obsessed [yes, this was one of my obsessions] with the idea of beauty, formal perfection, in prose. The kind of writing I had most enjoyed previously had been elegant, lithe. It was while overdosing on Faulkner, I think, when I came to understand that sentences could be just as effective, as pleasing, if they are more idiosyncratic and earthy, that flaws could add rather than detract. So, crucially, I came to the book this time actually wanting what David Foster Wallace had to offer, I wanted something more organic and less formal. Wallace’s sentences are conversational, muscular, almost Jivey; and I didn’t mind their occasional ugliness or clumsiness, in fact I came to value those things because it felt real to me, inviting and engaging.

My revised opinion of the style, allied with what I had always liked about the book – the humour, the warmth, the Salinger-like eccentric family at the tennis academy – means that I can legitimately recommend Infinite Jest. Yet, it would be remiss of me not to mention some of the problems I still have with it, the parts of the novel where no epiphany or enjoyment was forthcoming. I wrote in my review of The Grapes of Wrath about how writing a successful novel is like top-level sport, that it is about making the right choices at the right times. I call bad choices Boom Moments. A Boom Moment refers to when the boom mike becomes visible during a TV programme or film, thereby destroying the atmosphere, breaking the spell, bringing you back into the room, and reminding you of how much your ass hurts etc.

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A Boom Moment in literature works in much the same way. It is when the author does something stupid, or cringy, or whatever, thereby taking you out of the book and back into your bedroom. Infinite Jest’s Boom Moments, missteps, etc, are numerous. First of all, the book is set in an unspecified future. Which is fine, but this future element of the book doesn’t ever go anywhere. It feels as though David Foster Wallace only set the book in the future in order to be able to make a series of not-funny jokes. For example, in the future world of Infinite Jest years are sponsored and therefore called things like The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment or The Year of the Trial Size Dove Bar. Ho hum. I mean, maybe you find that funny, but I certainly didn’t; in fact, I found it irritating. Likewise, the idea of the videotape that one cannot look away from. Not only is it, like the year names, tiresome and unsophisticated humour, but, again, the idea never gets off the ground, is not developed beyond what the author clearly felt was a funny or smart joke. Indeed, it’s strange that someone who was obviously blessed with a great sense of humour, who could write very very funny scenes [like the man with a blocked nose, who is gagged and tied to a chair], was also so often off the boil. For me, there is a big drop-off in the quality of humour when Wallace was trying to be satirical. It’s a shame, therefore, that he didn’t recognise his strengths and stay away from the biting/politicised side of things.

A much more serious problem with the book is that it is at times borderline offensive, or at least occasionally exploitative. There was a certain point in my reading when I came to realise that everyone in it is in some way ill or disabled or disfigured. And that’s ok; in fact, I liked that, because it does say something about contemporary society in that we often think that the disabled, or the ones with the worst mental or physical problems, are over in one corner, and the rest of us are in the opposite corner, and we’re fine. And that is not the case. Most people have problems. So, I didn’t dislike that aspect of the book per se, I just felt as though David Foster Wallace took it too far. For example, there is a scene where a girl talks about her severely disabled sister and how this sister was raped by their father and actually achieved orgasm via this rape. And, uh, that was unnecessary, for me. It struck me that it was there not to make a point about why people turn to drugs, because that is a point that had been made numerous times, in a far more sensitive fashion, but rather it was there because the author found it titillating, because he knew that other people, his readers, would find it titillating too, in the way that people enjoy reading about horrendous things. He was, let’s face it, rather cynically looking for an eww gross-type reaction from his audience.

Furthermore, the black characters in Infinite Jest are pretty rum. There are not many, but the ones that are in the book are all either unsympathetic or criminals, or both. And they all spoke in what one can only imagine was meant to be a kind of black American dialect. I’m not saying David Foster Wallace was racist, but certainly at times his writing lacked sensitivity, or even subtlety. And what’s annoying is that he really didn’t need to go there, he didn’t need to have black characters at all, and he certainly did not need to have them speak the way they do. Of course, he’s dead now, but If he were still alive I’d be advising David to steer the fuck clear of that kind of thing in future.

So, that’s it, that’s my Infinite Jest review; which, now that I look back over it, is almost as long as the book itself. But at least I didn’t make you read endnotes.