Wallace and Lipsky argue and taunt each other on topics ranging from avant-garde art to the addictive nature of entertainment (the central theme of “Infinite Jest”), to the exhausting years, months, and weeks leading up to the release of Wallace’s book.
Together they journey from reading to reading, state to state, in diners and airports. In freezing weather, in smoke-filled cars, amid canceled airline flights, the men talk and Lipsky tapes.
“A good book teaches the reader how to read it,” Wallace says. Lipsky’s book offers no road map but we figure it out.
The book features nearly verbatim interviews. Lipsky includes his questions and summarizes parts of the conversation. Contextual data lands on the page, with liberal use of brackets. We get what Wallace himself was after in his own writing: “all the French curls and crazy circles.”
It will either drive you mad, or you will love it for all its messiness. One thing is certain: If you didn’t already love Wallace, this book will make you love him.
There are things here that fans or friends may take umbrage with: disclosures Wallace himself might not have appreciated (his comments about other writers); possible outcomes of the book tour (you’ll have to read the boook to find out); and asides that could detract, if you let them.
But focus on the book’s form or its hiccups and you will miss its purpose. Lipsky, I believe, is being purposefully messy or expansive, a critique some reviewers made of “Infinite Jest.”
The purpose is to get us inside Wallace’s head, and Lipsky takes us there. More aptly, he doesn’t interrupt Wallace as he takes us there. We get to see every synapse firing.