On First Meeting Don Gately

Dear Dave,

I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was a warm Monday afternoon sometime last May, maybe early June. My girls were dancing, my wife was working the sign-in table, and I was armed only with my Kindle.

I had been inching my way through Infinite Jest for a couple weeks, having decided to enjoy my own Infinite Summer. I pressed the “next screen” button, still stuck at 5%,[1] advancing to the “Autumn – Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland” chapter,[2] and there he was:

Mr. Don Gately, breaking into some rich guy’s house.

It was a rather odd, surreal experience. Like meeting up with an old friend I had not seen in a very long time. It’s weird because I felt like I knew him pretty well already; in much the way I know Willy Loman or Pi Patel or Orual from Till We Have Faces. I had talked about him,[3] read about him, hell I even wrote about him in my “Work in Process” paper. But I had not yet met him personally. In my numerous failed attempts to read Infinite Jest, I had not yet reached page 55.

I knew as I read – determined to make it all the way through this time – that I would meet DG sooner or later, but it still caught me by surprise. In much the same way he sneaked into that house to burglarize it, he crept up on me unexpectedly. This was not the introduction I anticipated for this much-talked-about character;[4] I’m not really sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this.

Equally surprising was my own response to his arrival in the book. Once the initial shock had worn off, I felt genuinely happy to be reading about him. Albeit, he was not in the best circumstances, and he is in no way heroic or noble – even now as I am 450 pages into the book – but I was so happy to finally meet him. I had never felt this way while reading a book, perhaps because this book was different. In the three short years since first being introduced to your works, all I’ve heard about is Infinite Jest. I’ve been a part of – if only as an interested listener – so many conversations about the book that I feel like I’ve read it several times already. Perhaps it was excited anticipation. Perhaps it was the familiarity with the characters and the story. Whatever it was, it was a very new and very delightful experience. One I will savor for a long time.

Like meeting an old friend.

[1] While I have come to enjoy reading on my Kindle much more than I expected I would, it gets a little discouraging reading such a long book. I go through about thirty screens before advancing another 1% (an accomplishment I typically declare to all those around me).

[2] Page 55 in the paperback edition.

[3] Well, more like listened in on conversations about him. I have heard his name brought up in many a conversation, and usually nodded along and sometimes even asked questions, but had little to contribute to those conversations because I had not yet read IJ in its entirety.

[4] Although it shouldn’t have surprised me; Hal’s first appearance in the opening scene was certainly dramatic, but definitely far from grand or heroic. Why would I expect more from Gately.


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