Filed under IJ
from T. Theodore: These pages start with a look at the gut-wrenching program at ETA – the incredible pain and agony required to create an elite athlete. The physical demands that end with constant puking and bodily pain are accompanied by a mental training that excludes all other realities except the game itself. This orthodoxy is taught by the gestapo Schtitt who remains a clever symbol of the German work ethic and neo-Nazi insanity as he flies around on his ancient BMW motorcycle and whips young boys with his little horsewhip.
This section on mental tennis is followed by a section on mental AA in which Gately’s struggle, his hitting bottom and his dedication to doing onerous chores and tasks all contribute to his recovery by keeping his head in the right place. It doesn’t matter if you understand, just do it. Again the parallels between recovery and the ETA are demonstrated here.
Marathe and Steeply reappear to talk about forfeiting life for pleasure. They give philosophical voice to the struggle of the previous sections. Rats will give up their lives for pleaure, will people do it too? And is not that what these poor people at ETA or these people who forfeit life for booze are doing?
The next section is the signal of a passing. We are exactly halfway through the book and here in this section the main characters finally begin to flow into each other’s lives. First, Gately and the Ennet House are joined by sweet, veiled Joelle. Then in Gately’s trip to the market to buy special food for sweet Joelle (a striking anomaly in the E. House) he, Gately, runs across the wheelchair assassins honing in on the Portuguese entertainment center. I don’t recall the characters beginning to crisscross like this before and see this as a definite sign from the author that he is now going to work this story through. Everything is now in place.
from T. Theodore: With this lengthy section on Gately’s trip to the market for Joelle’s food we have, as I said before, reached dead center of the book. The tide is turning from presentation of scenes and characters to the fulfillment of the story. It is at this point that we must pause for a moment. Should we go on? We have come to know and love these people with all their craziness and frailties. The bizarre world in which they live has become known to us and we enter it with a sense of anticipation and joy, even though all the worlds in this book are difficult and most are pretty gruesome. The author has shown his willingness to kill off people, and we definitely know we are in a book that is not going to have some fairy tale ending in which everybody lives happily ever after. So what is going to happen to these people? the Holy Incandenzas? the Mighty Gately? Sweet Joelle? Grisly Marathe? and Tilty-Titted Steeply? and the madhouse of characters that surround them?
It takes a certain faith to continue. Trust that the author will be faithful to these people. Faith, not that everything works out perfectly, but that the development have integrity and that DFW stays true to his characters and does right by them. Faith that he doesn’t create this caring within us and then rip us to shreds. I find myself here with some doubts, but bascially trusting him enough to go on.
This section (450-500) ends with a look back at a telling childhood scene from the life of James Inc. We get a climpse of the misery of his homelife with an insufferable Dad, the man from G.L.A.D., angrily trying to find the source of a squeek in the bed he shares with his wife. It doesn’t work, of course, because he’s looking for the problem in the wrong place (duh, try making your wife happy!). We see the tension of trying to live with this arrogant dud, we see the infinite chasm between him and his silent wife, and we see Jim himself seeking refuge from this family dynamic and finding it in the world of annulation: the circle being yet another symbol of infinity. This time infinity is given an unsual and desperate twist of futility, not unlike the Greek pushing the stone up the hill (the name escapes for the moment), in the image of someone doing somersaults with one hand nailed to the floor. This is truely a religious moment in Jim’s life. That essence of religion, seeking order in a chaotic existence and relief from emotionally unbearable circumstances, is depicted here in a young man’s initial captivation with the circle, as clear a sign of the infinite as such signs get. Jim will remain true to this intial conversion experience all his life and will study deeply the nature of this infinity. By the end his developed faith will not look much like this adolescent experience, but the circle will stand firm as a foundation for what is to follow.