Curtis White on Hal & Gately in Infinite Jest

After my first reading of Infinite Jest, I called David [Foster Wallace] to congratulate him. I told him it was one of the best books I’d ever read. (His response: “Thank you so much. I worked really, really hard on it.” His “reallyreally” was inflected with boyish sincerity.) I said that as soon as I was done, I started reading it again. (A satisfied and grateful hum from the other end.) But I also asked why it was that the two main characters—Hal Incandenza and Don Gately—were said to meet on page seventeen for the purpose of “digging up my father’s head” when they never meet in the succeeding 1062 pages. The two characters are parts of two narrative lines that remain thematically related (by addiction) but dramatically separate.

It seemed as if the novel itself were having a dream.

So I asked him about it, as diplomatically as I could. He said that in the five hundred or so pages that had been edited out of his manuscript, scenes in which Gately and Hal meet had been removed. These edits were driven largely by considerations of what the spine of a single volume could physically hold, as well as by what could be reasonably charged for a book, and certainly by the equally reasonable desire of his publisher to make a profit.

(An aside: with all the hoopla that surrounded the posthumous publication of The Pale King, I wonder why a “director’s cut” version of Jest, restoring the missing five hundred pages, has not been released. Are they lost? Is the publisher too embarrassed to confess to eliminating the missing passages?)

Even now, I’m dumbstruck by David’s admission…

—Curtis White
—from “Curtis White Remembers David Foster Wallace”

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