Infinite Jest was written by David Foster Wallace in 1996. At 1,079 pages, it covers subjects as diverse as substance addiction, depression, child abuse, Quebec separatism, family relationships, film theory and tennis.
Set in a near-future version of the United States, in a beguiling hinterland where spiritual quest and screwball comedy meet, the novel focuses primarily on the students of the Enfield Tennis Academy and the residents of the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, which are separated by a hillside in Boston, Massachusetts.
The former is the domain of the Incandenza family: father James, who founded the ETA before turning to film-making, and eventually putting a microwave to brutally inventive use in order to kill himself; widow Avril, and sons Orin, Mario and Hal.
Hal is a wildly precocious student at the Academy and arguably the main protagonist. His prodigious intellect serves as an emotional barrier against the alienation that consumes him after his father's death. An apparent lack of feeling is compounded by an addiction to marijuana and a mind addled with self-doubt and insecurity.
The title of the novel refers to a film that is so beautifully entertaining it traps the viewer in a state of entranced bliss, rendering them lifeless. It is taken from a line in Hamlet, in which the prince refers to the deceased entertainer Yorick as "a fellow of Infinite Jest". The influence of Shakespeare's play extends throughout the novel, not least in the exploration of the relationship between Hal and his father.
The master copy of the movie, also known as 'The Entertainment', was the last work filmed by Hal's father, and is the subject of a search being carried out by Les Assassins des Fauteuils Roulants ('The Wheelchair Assassins'), an extremist Québécois separatist group who want the film as a terrorist device to deploy against the USA. The United States Office of Unspecified Services seek to intercept the film, which is thought to be ensconced in Ennet House.
An army of plagiarists, militants, thieves, dwarves, porn stars, quadruple agents, drag queens, medical attachés, gangsters and pranksters are enlisted by Wallace in a gloriously defiant attempt to shine a lyrical light on very nearly everything. Infinite Jest is a journey that takes you on so many detours that you're left wondering what the destination is; but, however long it takes you to get through, you'll be certain of the truth in the adage that the journey is the most important thing.