‘I read,’ I say. ‘I study and read. I bet I’ve read everything you’ve read. Don’t think I haven’t. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.”
When Hal tells the administration of the Enfield Tennis Academy this, I cheered. This might be the single most amazing line I’ve ever read in a novel. I laughed out loud and knew I was in for a treat. Every time I see a Taxi, I think of Hal. He and I are kindred spirits.
He is far more eccentric, though. The kind of guy I’d like to be friends with. I’d like to invite Hal, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Esther Greenwood to a party. Hal is a walking dictionary and privy to his Latin, not to mention a tennis prodigy. More than that, he has a sense of humor. He negotiates philosophers like they are Pokemon characters and comes from the epitome of a dysfunctional family.
The anxiety that follows these early pages is so thick you can cut it with a knife, but these moments give the reader something vivid to hold on to and attach to. Hal’s the little brother I never had. More than that, though, he is a character I can learn from. I suspect that is what David Foster Wallace had in mind. Characters in Infinite Jest, just like readers in real life, learn from each other. We are reminded again and again that real growth and healing takes place in community. Perhaps this is why we are reminded that solipsism and solitude have no solution. The solo life is a hell for one.