So back on West Wing, when Bartlett was running for re-election, there’s a part where they are worried that he is acting too smart. Toby Ziegler gives a long speech about why it was OK to be smart…you want your President to be smart….if you are smart, be smart.
I was thinking about this when reading the first part of the book. A criticism of the book has been that DFW was “full of himself” when writing the book. I’m a little like Toby Zeigler here. There is no doubt, DFW takes us through some wickedly great language and detail and observations. He’s really good at it. Is he full of himself? Probably. Does he want people to watch while he does the literary equivalent of Cirque du Soleil tricks? Yes, yes he does. That’s no different than any other artist, though
That’s no different than any other artist, though. Smart is good. He should let it all hang out.
So, 100 pages in, I like it. Yes, it is a discursive, but (much like War and Peace) it is not as unreadable as its rep. At least not yet. Yes there are footnotes. Even the footnotes have footnotes. It is also manic. Words and sentences are literally piling off the page, expanding like billowing smoke.
It is also funny….to wit:
a redisseminated episode of the popular afternoon InterLace children’s program ‘Mr. Bouncety-Bounce’—which the attaché thinks for a moment might be a documentary on bipolar mood disorders until he catches on….
Doctors tend to enter the arenas of their profession’s practice with a brisk good cheer that they have to then stop and try to mute a bit when the arena they’re entering is a hospital’s fifth floor, a psych ward, where brisk good cheer would amount to a kind of gloating.
In school, we were taught that detail is the key to good writing. DFW was definitely in that class, too. His observations are so keen, so sharp, and so detailed. You wonder if there ever was anything he didn’t notice and observe on 5 different levels at the same time.
And, of course there is the vocabulary. An incomplete list of oddball words from the first 100 pages would include thigmotactic, hypocapnia, rictus, festschrift, dipsomaniacal, apocopes…you get the idea. There’s a lot of words here I have literally never even seen in my life.
There is a plot. Not like there was in War and Peace, but there is a plot. There’s an attaché who apparently saw something so shocking it has either killed him or made him catatonic. And two guys in the desert talking on a ridge. And weird Quebec-nationalism. It’s futuristic, but only a little. You would be hard pressed to describe the book to someone. It is brilliant for its circus tricks, but whether it ends up being a great book remains to be seen.
For good measure, DFW seems to have pre-discovered Netflix, too.