If one thing is clear about this book so far, itâ€™s that DFW has a way with words. Itâ€™s not often that an author can use just a mere sentence to convey an entire story or event, but DFW can do that. Often. Multiple times per page.
OCTOBER â€“ YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT
He cranks the condoâ€™s AC way down at night and still most mornings wakes up soaked, fetally curled, entombed in that kind of psychic darkness where youâ€™re dreading whatever you think of.
DFW are you in my head. This is my normal sleeping pattern. Iâ€™m always too warm, I wake up sweaty, and my brain just wonâ€™t shut up. How does he know this.
Weâ€™re introduced here to Halâ€™s older brother, Orin, who lives in Phoenix. (He was the one on the phone earlier.) It seems that no matter what, he always sleeps in the same manner out here in the desert:
Home with the team, no matter how high the AC or how thin the sheet, Orin wakes with his own impression sweated darkly into the bed beneath him, slowly drying all day to a white salty outline just slightly off from the weekâ€™s other faint dried outlines, so his fetal-shaped fossilized image is fanned out across his side of the bed like a deck of cards, just overlapping, like an acid trail or timed exposure.
I get the sense that DFW is also a man who will satisfy my favorite writing technique: showing, not telling. I have demanded it of every author in the Mark Reads series, most especially Stephenie Meyer. Granted, Infinite Jest is a different kind of book, a varied and utterly ambitious type of novel that begs for an author to simply go all-out. (I donâ€™t mean to suggest they are the same, but this reminds me of my favorite Harry Potter book, Order of the Phoenix, which had Rowlingâ€™s best writing because I felt she was unrestrained.) But I have to admit that, even if Iâ€™ve been wildly erratic in posting about this book, I am very glad to be doing something that is not YA fiction.
Onwards to Orin. I love the way DFW utilizes the weather to provide us with both scenery and a hint towards Orinâ€™s mental state:
He has a mustache of sweat. A bright beach ball floats and bumps against one side of the pool. The sun like a sneaky keyhole view of hell. No one else out here. The complex is a ring with a pool and deck and Jacuzzi in the center. Heat shimmers off the deck like fumes from fuel. Thereâ€™s that mirage thing where the extremem heat makes the dry deck look wet with fuel. Orin can hear cartridge-viewers going from behind closed windows, that aerobics show every morning, and also someone playing an organ, and the older woman who wonâ€™t ever smile back at him in the apartment next to his doing operatic scales, muffled by drapes and sun curtains- and double panes. The Jacuzzi chugs and foams.
There are two wonderfully subtle things at work here that we will probably never see again, but I canâ€™t help but point them out. First of all, heat. I grew up in Riverside, California. Go ahead and Google that. Itâ€™s in the Inland Empire, also know fondly as the Armpit of California. (Do you get that I absolutely hate it there? Well, then, allow me to further drill this heavy-handed message into your skull.) It was an arid, boring place to spend my formative years. But it taught me to tolerate the heat. It was pretty standard that thereâ€™d be a week or two during July or August where the average daily temperature was just around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. And when itâ€™s that hot out, itâ€™s quiet outside. Itâ€™s not something you think about or realize or can even conceive of until you experience it.
Some of my relatives on my momâ€™s side lived in Arizona. One lived in Phoenix, the other in Yuma. I had the expressed luxury of visiting both places in the dead of summer and let me tell: Arizona is a FUCKING DESERT. I have never (and hope to never) experience heat like that ever again in my life. Iâ€™ve come close to it with yearly trips to Coachella when I used to work for Buzznet, but Palm Springs and Indio in April never quite reached anything close enough. Is it ok if I call that sort of heat oppressive? Because you feel like all your agency and free will and joy has been sucked right out of you. The first time I went to Yuma in the first week of August, it was 127. I meanâ€¦unless you yourself have felt that before, can you even comprehend such a number? You canâ€™t. And you are blessed because of it.
Secondary to this, DFW also paints an accurate portrait of life in a suburban apartment complex with this section. I lived in a house most of my life, but after I ran away from home when I was sixteen, itâ€™s been apartments since then. I like smaller complexes these days; here in Oakland, there are only twelve units total and it can be rather friendly most of the time, and I actually feel like I know who lives near me. But generally, Iâ€™ve found that I ended up in places that seemed to be teaming with Strangers, as if they were some bacterial life form bred in the laboratory and then released on places like MacArthur Park or Lynwood or Bellflower or Downey. Iâ€™m sure plenty of you can regale me with stories like Orinâ€™s neighbor as well. In my current building, thereâ€™s a woman who has really loud sex, but only at (approximately) three in the morning OR three in the afternoon. Is she on some weird, ritualistic schedule? Who knows! Or there was the guy who lived across the hall from me when I lived in downtown Los Angeles who had a propensity for playing 311â€™s â€œAmberâ€ whenever he was getting high. And only that song.
Iâ€™m off on a tangent again. Letâ€™s go back to Orin and appreciate the note he received from â€œSubject,â€ who I assume is a from a girl?
The note from last nightâ€™s Subject is on violet bond once folded and with a circle of darker violet dead-center where the subjectâ€™s perfume-spritzer had hit it. The only interesting thing about the script, but also depressing, is that every single circleâ€”oâ€™s, dâ€™s, pâ€™s, the #s 6 and 8â€”is darkened in, while the Iâ€™s are dotted not with circle but with tiny Valentine hearts, which are not darkened in.
WHO WROTE THIS. Oh my god, thatâ€™sâ€¦kind of irritating? Right? Right???
We learn more of Orinâ€™s life; it seems he is a punter for New Orleans and heâ€™s staying here in Phoenix with the rest of his team, who have just returned from Chicago. Orin flashes back to a moment before they left for this most recent trip, to when he watched a bird fall dead, straight away, into the Jacuzzi in front of him. Itâ€™s a bad sign to him, and it suggests that there might have been something prophetic to Orin about this. DFW mentions that Orinâ€™s left side is larger than the right and that he doesnâ€™t move the left side once while he is outside. Obviously, this could just mean that Orin punts on the left side and heâ€™s resting, but was he hurt in Chicago? Possibly? Iâ€™m probably just reading too much into this.
Orin himself isâ€¦a bit strange. And I mean that with affection, since I am quite strange myself. Orin takes showers in the hottest water possible, and DFW reveals itâ€™s because of the giant sewer roaches that come out of the shower here in Phoenix. Orin believes that the hotter the water is, the less likely it is that roaches will come out of the drain like they have before. I also liked this bit of imagery when DFW describes Orinâ€™s trap technique:
Now he keeps big glass tumblers in the bathroom and when he turns on the light and sees a roach he puts a glass down over it, trapping it. After a couple days the glass is all steamed up and the roach has asphyxiated messlessly and Orin discards both the roach and the Tumblr in separate sealed Ziplocs in the dumpster complexÂ by the golf course up the street.
The yellow tile floor of the bathroom is sometimes a little obstacle course of glasses with huge roaches dying inside, stoically, just sitting there, the glasses gradually steaming up with roach-dioxide.
I donâ€™t like killing bugs myself. (That has nothing to do with being vegan, by the way. I have never liked killing them, even when I was a child.) So I imagine that I would do something this obsessive myself if faced with the same situation. But with Orin, his fear of roaches approaches something closer to a phobia, I think. We learn that there were parts of Boston by the bay that heâ€™d refused to go near as a child because of the roaches. But even worse than that was his time spent in New Orleands:
The parishes around N.O. had been having a spate or outbreak of a certain Latin-origin breed of sinister tropical flying roaches, that were small and timid but could fucking fly, and that kept being found swarming on New Orleans infants, at night, in their cribs, especially infants in like tenements or squalor, and that reportedly fed on the mucus in the babiesâ€™ eyes, some sort of optical-mucusâ€”the stuff of fucking nightmares, mobile flying roaches that wanted to get at your eyes, as an infantâ€”and were reportedly blinding themâ€¦
THANK YOU. THANK YOU FOR THIS WONDERFUL IMAGE THAT IS NOW IN MY HEAD, DFW. Not content to create this sort of nightmare fuel once, he continues, describing Orinâ€™s experience earlier this year with flooding that sent â€œover a dozen nightmarish dead bodies,â€ along with some flying roaches, tumbling down a hillside to rest against his teamâ€™s mailbox. And now heâ€™s in Arizona, but he didnâ€™t escape the roaches. The roaches are still there and they terrify him in ways that no one else seems capable of understanding.
What I am most intrigued by is Orinâ€™s nightmare and how it relates to his mother. It seems that the Incandenza family is made of individuals who all have strikingly different ways of coping with the world and vocalizing themselves. It all goes back to tennis for Orin, and I get the feeling that, unlike Hal, he doesnâ€™t play the sport anymore. (To escape his family?) In Orinâ€™s nightmare, his motherâ€™s face seems to plant itself on his like a mask orâ€¦well, I guess itâ€™s more like a helmet than a mask, according to Orin. In his sleep, according to the note left behind, Orin actually grabbed the girl in bed with him by the head.
Why is he having dreams like this? And what does it have to do with the dead bird or the very long-winded next section about a boy named Fenton who suffers from schizophrenia?
Despite that Iâ€™ve only gotten through nine or ten pages, Iâ€™m going to stop here. Iâ€™m nearly at 2,000 words already, even if Iâ€™ve only read one section. I really like that I have the chance to finally talk about things that areâ€¦well, not super fucking depressing for once. Thereâ€™s a lot here in this section with Orin, too, and I figured that it might be fair to devote an entire review just to his character. The next section will be a whole lot longer, I hope, unless something else particularly fascinating inspires me. Anyway, this is our introduction to Orin Incandenza. And itâ€™s a damn fine one at that.