MAD MAXIMALISM

THE SEASON'S BEST-HYPED NOVEL IS A 1,079-PAGE WHOPPER FROM A 33-YEAR-OLD. IT'S INDULGENT, MADDENING AND BRILLIANT BY TURNS

A 1,079-PAGE NOVEL THAT CONcludes with 100 pages of annotation and calls itself Infinite Jest (Little, Brown; $29.95) is doubly intimidating. First, there is its length, which promises an ordeal like driving across Texas without cruise control. Second, the title itself hints that the joke may be on the reader. By definition, infinite means no punch line.

Yet David Foster Wallace's marathon send-up of humanism at the end of its tether is worth the effort. There is generous intelligence and authentic passion on every page, even the overwritten ones in which the author seems to have had a fit of graphomania....

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