Infinite Jest – Week Twenty Five (pages 774-808)

“Hello all. We’re reaching something of a milestone this week, as we tackle the very last of the long endnotes! We’ll be reading pp.774-808. This week: Marathe meets someone who looks like his wife; Hal and Mario talk some more and Hal tries something new as a result; Molly Notkin reveals all; and, buried in the endnotes, Pemulis meets his match. Looking forward to it.”

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“‘What you’re saying is I need to actively go over to Jim myself and ask him to hold me,’ Kevin Bain says.” (807)

Marathe is so frustrating. Perhaps we just miss those happy chapters back in the beginning where he seemed to stand for a pretty clear, anti-American point. Now his whole philosophy about choice seems warped. This week he is sitting with Kate and refusing to tell her a love story. Marathe’s love for his weird skullless wife is supposed to be altruistic, but here it comes across as incredibly solipsistic, all about what she opens up inside him, all about how noble a person she lets him imagine he is. On the other hand, Kate’s naive belief in a love that’s “about your eyes meet across someplace and both your knees give out and […] you know you’re not going to be alone and in hell” (780) is maybe equally solipsistic, if love is all about saving yourself. And if that’s all you’re after, why would you say no to the Entertainment when Marathe offers it? An unhappy, lonely chapter.

We learn at last what happened in the room with the urine guy. Hal has to withdraw, and admits out loud, for the first time, that he might just have a problem. Hal’s saga in these pages is captivating, and sad. The fact that Mario both doesn’t seem to get what Hal is talking about, and seems to understand Hal’s problem better than Hal ever could, is really complexly excellent and well done. There’s more crossed wires when Hal pretends he’s on a research trip to Ennet House, and Mrs. Foltz gives him an out of date brochure. If only Hal was as smart as he thinks he is!

It’s always a joy to revisit the post-Marxist Molly Notkin, who tells us everything we’d want to know and more. Just as it’s refreshing to get an outsider’s look at Hal, it’s interesting to see Joelle’s history from the outside for a change (it seems more objective, somehow, if someone else is saying it). Our veterans had forgotten that Joelle’s bottom had stemmed directly from James’s topping himself: at least the chronology starts to come together on the 3rd of 4th reading. We enjoyed Notkin’s mixed metaphors (“no matter how wildly his nautical compass was spinning around, on its tether” [789]), the hints that Avril is death incarnate who might have been jealous of Joelle, and the story of Joelle’s wonderfully creepy father. Also, a big WTF at the mother-death cosmology – where’s that come from?

And what to make of the support meeting Hal attends? Wallace seems to poke fun of this meeting more than he does the AA/NA meetings, with its participants in toast-coloured jumpers and beards and their middle-class jobs. Maybe other readers would see “Needs, Needs, Needs, Needs, Needs” as a motto worthy of AA too, but it feels like there’s a big difference. Is it that AA is about identification and passing the gift on, where the I.I. group is all about taking the gift–the hugs, the teddy bear–for yourself? You can’t help but feel that Hal could use a hug, but perhaps not like this.

Finally, buried below all of this in the endnotes, is the end of Pemulis’s ETA career. We can’t help but be suspcious of Avril, given what we’ve learned from Notkin about Avril’s vindictive jealousy, and Wayne’s mysterious intake… Wallace really cleverly constructs his scenes so we keep having to put pieces together. We learn, for example, that Hal’s secret addictions are hardly secret at all if Wayne knows about them, and that Pemulis weaseled out of the urinalysis because he knows about Hal’s mother’s affairs. But what Hal makes of this we’re left to guess, which works really well from a readerly standpoint. And we’re left to anticipate, too: is this the last we see of Pemulis? Will we be seeing more of Wayne? It’s not so much like we’re getting answers, finally; it’s more like the picture of all these lives just keeps getting fuller and richer and easier to see. At last Hal is starting to make sense.

Word of the Week: “enmeshments” (791).

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