Infinite Jest, Week 7 (461-538)

IM staying in the world's squeakiest sublet in nyc
Everytime it squeaks I think of infinite jest
the floor is squeaky
the door is squeaky
... everything past p400 I feel like is full of mentions of squeaks

The word squeak pops up a bunch in the section about the Antitoi brothers, starting with the squeaky door hinge that Lucien Antitoi is oiling. The sound masks the squeaky wheelchairs that signal the arrival of the A.F.R., and the two brothers are brutally murdered amidst "a symphony of squeaks." In that short chapter alone the word squeak shows up 25 times. A few pages later, in the section about Himself, his father, and his parent's squeaky bed, the word squeak shows up 20 times. None of the other chapters are quite so squeaky, but if you pay attention squeak does show up fairly regularly: Marathe's wheelchair squeaks (and has squeaked consistently for the last 500 pages), Hal's ankle squeaks, and Pemulis and C.T.'s chairs both squeak. 

What is up with all this squeaking? In footnote 206 DFW explains that "to hear the squeak" is "itself the darkest of contemporary Canada's euphemisms for violent and sudden de-mapping," which may be his subtle way of foreshadowing and establishing tone and mood. The multiple squeaks also tie together something explicitly gross and viscerally violent (the murder of the Antitoi brothers) with something less ostentatious but equally chilling (Himself's father, face down in a mixture of dust and vomit) and something ominous (Pemulis and Hal, waiting to be punished for Eschaton). 

Besides the squeaking, that scene with JOI's father and the bed is another example of how DFW reveals great emotion and insight through what appears to be very impersonal writing. On the surface, the chapter's primary focus are the physical details (the furniture of the room, his father's appearance) and what stands out is how precise and strangely specific his memory is. All three chapters about JOI's dad are like that- the tennis match that destroyed his knees, the psychotic insistence for respect of objects in the garage, and the drunken oblivion face down in the dust. They all have a weird vividness and striking quality that signals a horror so complete that it has simultaneously dissociated Himself from his emotions and seared itself in his memory (which, come to think of it, might be why his nickname is Himself, in the third person). That chapter is deeply sad and haunting not despite of the blandness and the sharpness but because of it. 

Contrast this with the chapter about Erdedy at the NA meeting, telling Roy Tony "Thanks, but I don't particularly like to hug." The emotional distance of JOI is wonderfully squashed by Roy Tony's physical proximity.

‘You think I fucking like to go around hug on folks? You think any of us like this shit? We fucking do what they tell us. They tell us Hugs Not Drugs in here. We done motherfucking surrendered our wills in here,’ Roy said. ‘You little faggot,’ Roy added. He wedged his hand between them to point at himself, which meant he was now holding Erdedy off the ground with just one hand, which fact was not lost on Erdedy’s nervous system. ‘I done had to give four hugs my first night here and then I gone ran in the fucking can and fucking puked. Puked,’ he said. ‘Not comfortable? Who the fuck are you? Don’t even try and tell me I’m coming over feeling comfortable about trying to hug on your James-River-Traders-wearing-Calvin-Klein-aftershave-smelling-goofy-ass motherfucking ass.’ Erdedy observed one of the Afro-American women who was looking on clap her hands and shout ‘Talk about it!’ ‘And now you go and disrespect me in front of my whole clean and sober set just when I gone risk sharing my vulnerability and discomfort with you?’

...‘Now,’ Roy said, extracting his free hand and pointing to the vestry floor with a stabbing gesture, ‘now,’ he said, ‘you gone risk vulnerability and discomfort and hug my ass or do I gone fucking rip your head off and shit down your neck?’

...but by this time Erdedy had both arms around the guy’s neck and was hugging him with such vigor Kate Gompert later told Joelle van Dyne it looked like Erdedy was trying to climb him.

I love that. The Erdedy we first met really early on in the story, the guy helplessly waiting to go on a days long binge of marijuana, too weak to decide between phone and door, now has enough strength and desperation and faith to surrender his will and give himself up to Roy Tony. He doesn't have any more control than before, but at least he's swapped out "the pointless pain of active addiction" for a "sober pain [that] now has a purpose."

And I think it speaks to DFW's skill as a writer that he can write two diametrically opposed chapters almost right next to each other with the same gut wrenching impact.