It is now, and in this world, that we must live.
So I began my courtship with Infinite Jest the other day. I’m not even planning on putting it on my “currently-reading” shelf on GoodReads; my focus isn’t exclusive. I’m still poring my way through The Web and The Rock as well as a couple of ARC’s for the Free Lance-Star. My time with Infinite Jest will be lingering, an occasional affair.
Part of me loves loves loves diving into a huge novel, especially one that tries to tangle with varied, far-reaching aspects of society. Because if the author is good & I’m in the right frame of mind, the text is not only a comfort, but a fulfilling marriage of insight & affirmation. What you feel to be true is confirmed & ideas or consequences you didn’t consider before unveil themselves.
A novel like Infinite Jest or You Can’t Go Home Again or Sacred Games makes my anxiety about the world that much more manageable. I read & think, “Oh my stars, yes & yes, this is exactly what I was thinking too.” The reaction almost becomes the impetus to finish the book because you crave answers. I need answers, I need closure, therefore I will gladly sacrifice whatever (time, social life, sleep) for the next 400 pages.
When the world feels especially large & threatening, my first response is to turn to my huge novels. Kurt’s been hearing me talk about returning to Demons ever since the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Although I think now that the huge-ness of these novels must serve as a distraction or a buffer as well. Because one of the functions of these expansive, all-inclusive stories is to reaffirm that humankind will go on. Life is conflict & chaos & Seriously Bad Shit Going Down All the Time. But the stories always end on a note of hope; one or many lucky someones made it to the other side with a sense of what is important. And They Lived A Better Life For It.
At the same time, given the size & the structure of these huge novels, the reader can bounce around in as many perspectives & still feel ok, because you end the story with the lucky ones, which makes you think you’ll be lucky too. Contrast a monster novel against a novel about monsters like Never Let Me Go or Blood Meridian. These smaller, equally powerful works can show you the same variety of social & personal conflicts (albeit in broader strokes) but the reader is never allowed to slip away unscathed. You stay with the protagonist to the final agonizing moments of awareness; the buffer is gone. Humankind endures, despite the realization that time may only make matters worse. When the story ends, it leaves you with more questions & feeling more vulnerable than before. And Do We (the readers) Live A Better Life For It? Hmmm. . .
1000 pages may look hard to take on, but in the long run, it’s the easier way out.