Published early in 1996, David Foster Wallace's remarkable novel Infinite
Jest quickly acquired a tremendous level of notoriety for its then 33-year-old
author. It's an astonishing work, dense and darkly brilliant. This page
collects a number of reviews and articles pertaining to the book, the author,
and his oeuvre.
[Disclaimer: this site contains copyrighted material for which I do not
have legal permission to reproduce. In the current climate of Internet "frontier
justice," fans' pages such as this appear to be granted a certain lattitude.
I will always and happily remove any copyrighted material if requested to
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Sven Birkerts's review from the February 1996
issue of the Atlantic Monthly was one of the earliest appraisals
of Infinite Jest and it created quite a bit of excitement for the
novel. Birkerts slings around alot of faux postmodern academic lingo, and
the review has an overheated and breathless quality about it, but it is
Rather ecstatic Newsweek review (2.12.96
) by David Gates. Includes a brief interview with Wallace. (Gates is himself
an accomplished novelist. Jernigan (1991), a dark comic take on male
mid-life dissolution, is well worth a look.)
Michiko Kakutani's review from the New York
Times (2.13.96). Reserved in its praise, but also more than a little
awe-struck. The attempt at a plot-summary is hilarious in its own right.
(See the Salon interview below for Wallace's remarks regarding the
"very charming Japanese lady from the New York Times....")
So-so review by Time magazine's R.Z. Sheppard
(2.19.96), who finds Wallace's jokes tiresome. Actually, the sidebar story
about Wallace proofreading his galleys is more interesting than the review
Entertaining Chicago Tribune author profile
(2.23.96) by Mark Caro. Discusses buzz surrounding the novel, and includes
quotes from Wallace, as well as from faculty & associates at ISU.
Poorly written review by has-been Jay McInerney
in the New York Times Book Review (3.6.96). McInerney apparently
feels the need to piss all over Wallace, probably in a misguided attempt
to defuse the hype-sters who are labelling Wallace as the "next McInerney."
Sadly, Mr. Bright Lights doesn't seem to "get" Wallace's novel.
Enthusiastic review in The Boston Phoenix
(Mar. 21-28 issue) by Anne Marie Donahue. Contains yet another tongue-tied
attempt at a plot summary.
Boston Phoenix interview with Wallace,
also by Anne Marie Donahue, and from the same Mar 21-28 issue as her review
of Infinite Jest. Wallace is eloquent on the topics of mainstream
vs. avant-garde fiction, and reader expectations vis-à-vis narrative
"resolution." Helps point up the literary intolerance of reviewers
like Jacob Levich. (See two bullets down.)
Entertainment Weekly "critic"
Lisa Schwarzbaum was so intimidated by the book's sheer heft that she refused
to even read it! Her "review" is essentially an attack on the
hype and the marketing.
Odd little review by Jacob Levich, who was
so unhappy with what he perceived as the novel's lack of a satisfying resolution
that he brands it a case of "literary coitus interruptus." The
review is from the online TV Guide Entertainment Network. 'Nuf said.
Standard-issue New York Times Magazine
(3.24.96) "kultur" piece on Wallace and how he's handling sudden
success. Journalist Frank Bruni's tone is off-putting and smug, but the
article does its job in unnearthing wonderfully odd biographical details
about Wallace. (The weirdest aside is Bruni's discovery of the teeth-whitener
toothpaste and the acne medicine in Wallace's bathroom medicine cabinet.)
Interesting and irreverent piece from Hungrey
Mind Review by Michael Tortorello (early 96). Distinctive for Tortorello's
noting specific similarities between Wallace's work and the novels of Don
Outstanding interview with Wallace conducted
by Laura Miller for Salon online journal in March, 1996. Wallace
talks about the novel's editing. He also is generous in discussing literary
influences and his contemporaries.
Review by Kathleen Scheiner from the University of Iowa's student newspaper
The Daily Iowan (3.27.96). Positive in tone,
with a better-than-average attempt at a plot summary. Favorite overwrought
and impenetrable sentence: "Wallace eviscerates the most despicable,
and at times hilarious, parts of our current culture and drapes a future
world with vaguely recognizable glimmers of its decoration."
Review by Rob Fellman from the College Hill
Independent(4.11.96) published by Brown University and the Rhode
Island School of Design. This is another smart and breezy appraisal from
a smart and breezy college student, who seems equally at home with Umberto
Eco or Stephen King. Favorite passage from the review: "Wallace waxes
Romantic (that's Romantic with a capital 'R') about AA at times, which can
be a bit disturbing since it made me vaguely want to become an alcoholic
just so I could come back from the brink. Maybe I'm just impressionable;
I wanted to become a drunk after seeing Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas."
Pretty good interview with Wallace conducted
by Valerie Stivers for Stim online journal, which was apparently
posted in May, 96. Of particular interest are Wallace's refutations concerning
aspects of Sven Birkerts's Atlantic Monthly review.
Funny and charming online chat with Wallace
sponsored by WORD e-zine on May 17, 1996. Showcases a playful and
relaxed DFW, no doubt due to his feeling more at ease with a computer keyboard
than a face-to-face interview. The questions and online exchanges between
the participants are equally entertaining.
QPB talks to David Foster Wallace (September,
1996). True miscellany, this is a brief, nearly inane "interview"
with Wallace to hype the Quality Paperback Bookclub's edition of the novel,
which they are trumpeting as "coolest book of the year."
Review by Daley Haggar from the Fall '96 issue of the Harvard
Advocate. Haggar is a fearless name-dropper -- Eco, Jameson, Lacan
-- but somehow the lingo never seems gratuitous. Really one of the more
intelligent assessments of the novel.
In November of '96, Wallace was awarded $50,000
from the Lannan Foundation, primarily for his work on "Infinite Jest,"
which the foundation noted had been "praised for its brilliance, humor,
ambition and imaginative daring."
Michiko Kakutani's review (2.4.97) of DFW'sA Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, a marvelous and idiosyncratic
collection of previously published essays and magazine articles. Many of
the pieces were expanded for the book edition, in what Wallace has described
as a "director's cut." Kakutani's review reflects the now accepted
mainstream critical approach to DFW, praising his literary gifts, and then
scolding: "...like Infinite Jest, the book is sorely in need
of some editing..."
DFW began a second tour in February, 1997, to promote his book of essays.
(Published simultaneously with a trade paperback edition of Infinite
Jest.) He read at Canterbury Booksellers in Madison, Wisconsin on Feb.
13. The week before the reading, music/literary critic Tom Laskin interviewed
Wallace by telephone for Madison's Isthmus,
a city weekly.
The Wisconsin State Journal dispatched
their religion writer & spy-novel reviewer William R. Wineke to Madison's
Sheraton Inn to interview DFW. Wineke mentions Wallace as the author of
Infinite Jest and "other novels" [sic]. A ridiculous article,
which is nothing out of the ordinary for the State Journal. Also makes for
the third time I've heard Wallace tell his anecdote beginning, "I told
my publisher I wouldn't do a paperback tour....."
There are many reasons to boycott the crass and commercial website Little,
Brown & Company has concocted around their Infinite Jest juggernaut
[http://www.infinitejest.com/], not the least of which is its tacky design
and content. For me, personally, it's the "download an Infinite
Jest screensaver" come-on that completely ignores Macintosh users
in favor of Win-Doze plodders. That said, the website does contain the very
funny mini-essay, "David Foster Wallace talks
about writing Infinite Jest."
Journalist David Wiley's interview with DFW
(2.27.97) during the St. Paul, MN leg of the Supposedly Fun Thing
tour. Simply one of the best Wallace interviews in print. He takes a couple
of pot-shots at Pynchon, directed in particular at Vineland.
Zachary Chouteau's interview with Wallace for the American
Booksellers Association (3.97). Lots of interesting small talk here,
including DFW's favorite bookstore in the U.S. (Elliott Bay in Seattle),
the Pynchon business ("The Pynchon thing really annoys me...I get tired
of it, pissed off by it."), and this great childhood memory: "...my
parents really like to read, and a lot of my memories of growing up are
lying around with opera on the stereo and reading."
Novelist Richard Stern's very positive and strong
review of Supposedly Fun Thing for the Chicago Tribune
(3.9.97). Stern finds common ground between Wallace's Illinois State Fair
piece and a Saul Bellow essay from 1957, which is a beautiful cross-generational
literary compliment. Also, Stern praises DFW's essay on tennis player Michael
Joyce as "the best essay I've read on professional tennis."
Laura Miller's review of A Supposedly Fun Thing
I'll Never Do Again from the New York Times Book Review (3.16.97).
As her above Salon interview with Wallace demonstrates, Laura Miller
can be a perceptive critic. Here, however, she suggests that the essays
in Supposedly Fun Thing succeed more effectively than Infinite
Jest in presenting DFW's "ardent and sincere side." I'm not
convinced that's true, but even if it were, so what? More troubling is Salon's
questionable affiliation with Little, Brown & Company's DFW website.
The website's only link to an outside page is to Salon's DFW interview
conducted by....Laura Miller.
Wallace's appearance on PBS television's Charlie
Rose Show (3.27.97) is not without interest. DFW is clearly uncomfortable
with the medium, however, and you can sense him trying to edit and rewrite
his remarks while he's talking. Charlie Rose is a pretty good, if scatter-shot
interviewer. I thought there was far too much talk about David Lynch. Also,
Wallace here makes a couple of sexist remarks that one hopes are mere momentary
lapses of reason, to wit: [in regards to Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven]
"I don't know a single female who likes the film....[F]emales think,
'Western? It stinks'"; and this totally out-of-nowhere zinger: "Feminists
are always saying this. Feminists are saying white males say, 'Okay, I'm
going to sit down and write this enormous book and impose my phallus on
the consciousness of the world.'"
Michael Feldman's comedy-quiz radio program Whad'ya
Know? (4.5.97) would seem at first a most unlikely venue for a David
Foster Wallace interview. But, in fact, Feldman's witty smartypants patter
brings out the jokester and the one-upsmanship in Wallace. DFW is very sly
and funny here. Biggest revelation: Wallace has finally seen Lynch's Lost
Highway, which he dismisses as "kind of a dink."
Interview and profile from Toronto newspaper The
Globe and Mail (4.29.97), by journalist Doug Saunders. This piece
is very well crafted, with a priceless and hilarious description of Wallace
chewing tobacco during the interview and hawking into a teacup at the Founder's
Club in Toronto's SkyDome stadium. (Thanks to Saunders for posting a copy
of the article online at Wallaceemail@example.com.)
Michael Silverblatt interviewed Wallace on KCRW-FM
in Santa Monica (5.15.97) for the radio program Bookworm. This is
an outstanding interview. Silverblatt's questions are sharp and Wallace
seems more relaxed and at ease than in most of these forums. Also contains
some interesting conversation pertaining to David Markson's near-classic
novel Wittgenstein's Mistress, which is much admired by both Wallace
A brief and none-too-illuminating profile of Wallace was broadcast on
NPR's Weekend Sunday program (5.18.97). Perhaps
its most distinguishing aspect is the opportunity to witness DFW growing
ever more ill-tempered over the Pynchon comparisons: "The P- guy comes
into mind -- I won't even say his name -- whom I was very interested in
in college, but am just not that interested in anymore." (Thanks to
K. J. Turner for obtaining the transcript and sharing it with the firstname.lastname@example.org
discussion group, where I snagged a copy.)
Wallace was awarded a prestigious $230,000 "genius grant"
from the MacArthur Foundation on June 16, 1997. He was one of 23 recipients,
with individual grants ranging from $190,000 to $375,000, on which basis
Wallace would classify as only a "low mid-range" genius.
Wallace's scorched-earth attack on John Updike's
latest, Toward the End of Time, in the October 13, 1997 edition
of the New York Observer is pure agitprop, signaling Wallace's arrival
as a Maileresque pugilist in the dumbed-down lit-crit mainstream. Of Updike's
protagonist, Wallace remarks: "But it never once occurs to him that
the reason he's so unhappy is that he's an asshole." This isn't critical
thinking; it's merely dyspeptic blurbism. The Observer gleefully
sought to keep the bitches brew a' boiling, however, with a similar article
by DFW lapdog Sven Birkerts -- who bludgeons
Updike's contemporaries Bellow, Mailer, and Roth. Finally, Anne
Roiphe is brought in to cool things down as a sort of deus ex maternal
scold: "What we really have here is the primitive competitiveness of
males who want to urinate on the books placed on the front tables of Barnes
& Noble in order to signify territorial ownership."
Back on another book tour, this time for the paperback release of A
Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, Wallace was interviewed by
Tom Scocca of the Boston Phoenix (February
19 - 26, 1998 issue). DFW is more seasoned and relaxed than during his previous
Phoenix interview two years ago for Infinite Jest. In fact,
he's a regular schmoozer these days, and there are some wonderful anecdotes
here, including this great pre-Infinite Jest tale: "I remember
giving a reading at a bookstore in Harvard Square. It was December '91,
and Harper's had this whole idea that they were going to put on these
readings. The Harper's PR person came to Boston, and I came and I
gave a reading, and nobody showed up. There was a snowstorm, but the basic
point is, nobody showed up. So me and the PR guy went out and ate, like,
three pieces of cake each and apologized to each other for three hours."
Continuing his paperback tour for A Supposedly Fun Thing... Wallace
is interviewed by Chris O'Connor and Rob Elder in the March '98 issue of
the Oregon Voice,
a publication of the University of Oregon. Particularly interesting for
Wallace's remarks on the uneasy alliance between authors & publishers,
and authors & media.
Melpomene Whitehead's remarkable essay of eroticized
hagiography explains why David Foster Wallace is "the only author
who can strum my magic twanger." Part hilarious homage to Wallace's
footnoted writing style, the essay also offers up funny/scary autobiographical
shards from Whitehead's life. Appears in E-rupture webzine.
Check out the David Foster Wallace website created by Nick
Maniatis in Australia. The site is beautifully designed and the information
is frequently updated. Nick offers a considerable amount of substantive
and original material concerning Wallace and his work. I also owe Nick a
big thanks for the numerous links he provides to my own DFW page.
A very useful IJ textual tool is offered by Steve
Russillo on his Infinite Jest page -- an Endnote Tag Finder.
Anyone who has spent time with the novel's endnotes at the back of the book
has quickly discovered that there's no easy way of using the index to refer
back to the text: you can't discover from the endnote itself where in the
novel the endnote reference is. Russillo solves this problem for all of
us by referencing the index. Extremely helpful.
Michiko Kakutani's review of The Broom of the
System (12.27.86) from the New York Times. Yes, here she
is ten years ago predictably sprinkling Wallace with equal parts praise
and damnation. But in the end: "The problem is that pretension often
substitutes for real intelligence, wordiness for eloquence."
Caryn James's review of The Broom of the System
(3.1.87) from the New York Times Book Review. More insightful than
Kakutani, James points up the Wittgenstein connection and seems to "get"
the jokes. Also includes a brief excerpt from the novel showcasing the "Hi,
Bob!" drinking game.
This photo of Wallace appears on the dust-jacket of the 1989 Norton
hardback edition of his short-story collection, Girl With Curious Hair.
Infinite Jest makeover -- minus ubiquitous bandanna -- circa
March, 1996, from the New York Times Magazine.
Photo appearing as of February, 1998 in ads and on the back cover of
the paperback edition of A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.
Photo appearing above the author bio in the July 1998 Esquire
magazine, which features Wallace's short story "Adult World."
Life Imitates Jest
Blood Sister: One Tough Nun, James Incandenza's exploitation
flick given a loving plot synopsis in the latter pages of Infinite Jest,
has perhaps met its real-life match in a series of comic books chronicling
the adventures of Sister Shannon Masters, the Warrior Nun. An article in
USA Today (5.5.97) has all the goofy details.
Copyrights are due the authors,
journals, magazines, & newspapers
from whose pages I've copied stuff.