Books: Infinite Jest

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A 1,000-page novel that calls itself 'Infinite Jest' (Little, Brown; $29.95) is doubly intimidating. First there is its length. Second, the title itself hints that the joke may be on the reader. By definition, infinite means no punchline. Yet David Foster Wallace's send-up is worth the effort, says TIME's R.Z. Sheppard. "There is generous intelligence and authentic passion on every page, even the overwritten ones where the author seems to have had a fit of graphomania. Characters and events are propelled by a distinctive prose that frequently mixes teenage trash talk and intellectual abstraction, a Bevis-and-Egghead style that should set older folk aback and college kids abuzz." Set in a not-so-distant future where New England has been declared a toxic waste dump, the novel is a sprawling examination of annihilating diversions in an age of addictive entertainment. "'Infinite Jest' hurls its maximalist bulk, flamboyant style and unbuttoned erudition at all that might be considered fashionable posturing. Cool, it tells us in more ways than we may want to hear, is a social disease."