“Just because something is big, doesn’t mean it’s good”
“The 300 mark? Around there, I think.”
“I don’t remember. I think the part about tennis.”
The group leader nodded at each response from the people sitting around him. Outside the chilly room, English rain slashed against the windows at a perfect 22 degree angle, which no one in the room knew was the best angle for sharpening a knife. Except for the person who just walked into the room.
“Is this the ABBA thing?” she asked.
The group leader turned in his chair. It creaked softly, the weary sigh of straining wood and humid Thailand manufactured stitching reminding the group leader of his grandfather, of how he turned in his chair just like that before the wrecking ball came through his window. It was a soft memory, tinged in quiet light, like how you think Sweden was all the time in the Seventies.
“No,” the group leader said. His name was Jamie, but he liked to be called Marco. It worked better with the sort of women he liked to wake up beside in the morning: Elusive. Distant. Like true love. Or velociraptors. “That’s two doors down. But hey: you can take a chance on us.”
The woman put down her backpack. “See what you did there,” she said. Her eyes drifted over to the refreshment table. “How you doin’? I’m Maggie. Are those Peek Freens?”
“Help yourself,” Marco/James said. “I’m Marco. Welcome to the Infinite Jest Support Group.”
“Are you kidding me? I have that,” she said over her shoulder. She was already pouring herself a coffee and reaching over to grab a pile of cookies, some of which she didn’t shove into her pockets. “Probably should have got the Kindle version. It’s a helluva bastard to lug around Europe.”
“Then come join us,” he said. “Let’s share our experiences with this wondrous book.” Marco’s eyes slid over Maggie’s jeans as she leaned over the table in that innocent yet surreptitious way men think women never notice. He felt something, a stirring, that felt like the opening chords of a Belle and Sebastian song, but about sex. He wondered if Maggie liked Leonard Cohen. She sounded Canadian. So, probably.
“Sure, why not?” Maggie said, dropping down onto the last empty chair in the circle. “My bus doesn’t leave for another hour.”
Marco introduced Maggie to the other members of the group. Athena was slight and blonde, working on her Masters in Comparative Literature. Her smile was fragile, like hope. Richard was 28, a barista at a Starbucks wannabe who twitched in a way that spoke of dependency or imminent stroke. Anna was a beautiful Indian woman who just nodded at Maggie and said nothing, yet the look that sizzled in the air like a Russian meteorite between she and Marco told him that his sly assessment of Maggie’s posterior had not gone unremarked.
Marco did his best to recover. “Are you Canadian?” he asked. “Because, as we know, Avril Incandenza from Jest is also Canadian. It would be serendipitous if—“
“She’s also fictional,” Maggie pointed out. “Which is kind of funny, because—“
“How far did you make it in Infinite Jest?” Anna asked, her beautiful eyes narrowing, tiny slivers of challenge, like an asp, or a velociraptor with a head cold. Which, according to scientists, could totally have happened.
“Finished it, actually. Going through it again.”
There was a collective gasp from the support group. Marco’s blue contacts popped out. Athena swooned to the floor. Richard said, “Lord above!” although he was a Buddhist this week. Anna may have hissed.
Athena struggled back into her seat. “I hate you,” she said.
“Aww!” Maggie smiled. “That’s sweet.”
“None of us have actually finished the book,” Richard said. “How“ - he blinked – “how did you do it?”
Maggie munched a cookie. “I read one word, then moved onto the next. Seemed to work out pretty well.”
“But the footnotes.” Athena shivered. “They just sit there…like pit traps.“
“Yeah,” Maggie nodded. “They can be a pain in the ass. But some of them were pretty good. Not all of them, though. If I had time machine, I’d like to go back and bitch-slap David Foster Wallace. I mean, c’mon.”
Anna coiled. Her eyes gleamed, like a velociraptor looking up at an approaching asteroid. “He was a great writer! “
“Anna, please,” Marco pleaded. “Not again. Didn’t the detective inspector say he’d charge you next time?”
“Not saying he wasn’t, sweetie,” Maggie said. “But I’m not sure Infinite Jest is as great as everyone says. And by everyone, I mean the hipsters who haven’t read it. Or worse, those who want to read it just to say they have.”
Richard looked at his phone. Coughed.
“That’s a pretty bold statement,” Anna pointed out. “Especially from a Canadian.”
“I guess you don’t know many Canadians.”
“I just want to remove this book from my Goodreads,” Athena said to the floor. “I see people in the cafes reading Murakami. They seem so happy. “She buried her face in her hands, shaking.
“So you hated the book? Is that it . . . colonial?” Anna seethed.
Marco thought chairs would fly again. But Maggie just laughed. Sipped her coffee.
“Here’s the thing, She-Hulk,” she said. “When I finished Infinite Jest the first time, I was disappointed. As a novel, it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. Just because something is big, doesn’t mean it’s good.”
Despite her rage, Anna glanced at Marco. He looked away, remembering that night.
“But then I realized what Jest was good at,” Maggie continued. “It was good at showing who Wallace was. Of how messed up and brilliant. And now, reading Jest is like hanging with the guy. He’s a good companion.”
“Maybe you just lack the education to . . .“ Anna began.
Maggie smiled. “And hey! If you wrap Jest in a towel, you can beat someone senseless without leaving a bruise. Did you know that?”
“Good talk, eh?“ Maggie said, picking up her backpack.
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