Sleeping with David Foster Wallace

The Alleged Review wherein Ross Nervig reviews whatever he feels like reviewing.



There’s a book on my chest when I wake up. It’s familiar, that rectangle. For the plot-obsessed, it’s been a through-line in my life. The different phases of reading. From the feather-heavy Spider-Man comics to the drape of Calvin & Hobbes to Goosebumps and Hatchet and then thick Stephen King paperbacks, every Hunter S. Thompson book from the local library, the usual high school suspects assigned by my English teachers: To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth, The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, the usual college suspects: Absalom, Absalom, The Handmaiden’s Tale, Sula, and A Good Man is Hard to Find.

Skip a few years to my favorite breastplate of ink and wood pap. Infinite Jest. Infinite Jest was a love affair. The paragraphs and paragraph-long sentences and the pages-long paragraphs I would read and reread between that slow-shutter effect of falling asleep, my god, those moments seem to me somehow spiritualized. 2.6 lbs moving ever toward an equal weight on both hemispheres—sitting on my chest like a squat shifty little angel. Then the slow increasing of page weight on the heart-side of my chest. When I’d finished it, I placed that book back on the shelf a little glad that I didn’t have to see that truly awful cover. See: Back Bay 10th Anniversary paperback edition, but each cover of this book’s different editions is terrible. (The publishers could’ve wrapped it in a slip-cover of cheese cloth—this is one book that will never be judged by its cover, but by its door-stopping dimensions.) Once done, I became restless and little sad. Maybe like someone whose cat slept on their chest and then died.

There have been other books since then, since Infinite Jest. Big ones, too. Don Quixote (didn’t work out—I think it was the difference in our ages…), The Recognitions (an on-again/off-again thing [though I don’t think it’s gonna work out]), The Making of Americans (2.8 pounds, but maddening), Volumes I – VI of My Secret Life (borrowed from a friend, which makes waking up with it all the more dirty). Even other works by the author himself.

I could reread… I probably will, one day. I have to forget much of it, its memory will drain like a dream drains from you the further the day travels away from waking. I don’t think it will ever be like my first time, though. Once, a groupie leaving Mick Jagger’s hotel room was asked what he was like in bed, the groupie replied “He’s no Mick Jagger.” I worry about this happening. Those first hypnagogic spirals into sleep, corkscrewing along the involutions… the continual rereadings I’d have to do after dipping under while trying to stay up… the lulling brain-voice of Hal Incandenza, Ken Erdedy’s infernal marijuana ritual, the mattress moving scene (my favorite) and Don Gately’s soulful arch throughout… I’d sink below with the image of the PGOAT behind her inscrutable veil. The tennis academy’s manicured grounds. The silhouettes of Remy Marathe and Helen/Hugh Steeply among the cacti of the Arizonan desert. The specter of the Mad Stork casting his shadow over it all. And like a millstone, IJ would weigh me down to deeper depths of sleep.







Author’s Note: I can only bring myself to give my evenings spent with DFW an A-. I must because I need the thought of another tome—quite possibly a 3-pounder or more—riding the crests and valleys of my breathing chest like a heavy ship coasting off the edge of the earth to drive me ever-onward.


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Front page image by Steve Rhodes.

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