In an alternate future where the president of North America is a Vegas crooner and time itself is sponsored, tennis prodigy Hal Incandenza is rejected from university when his attempts at honest human interaction are misinterpreted as a psychotic episode. How did he -- and this world -- get to this point? After this first scene, most of the novel takes place in flashbacks to November YDAU (Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment -- sponsored time, remember) in a sprawling and satiric plot that includes Alcoholics Anonymous, wheelchair-bound Quebecois separatists, and a video so entertaining that people die watching it on endless repeat. Throughout the novel, David Foster Wallace questions our ability to distract ourselves with entertainment by repeatedly daring the reader to laugh at the ridiculous details of horrifying events. (Only one of many examples: the president turns the border between Quebec and New England into a toxic waste dump where giant mutant hamsters roam wild.) At its heart, IJ's message is that all modern ills (drug abuse, family dysfunction, poor foreign relations) are borne from thoughtless self-indulgence, and it's amazing how many such ills DFW manages to connect. Laugh, cry, but most importantly, Engage and Think.
Set in the near future in a addicts' halfway house and a tennis academy, a moving novel explores a world of drug abuse, heartbreak, advertising, philosophy, math, humor, and drama as it addresses what happens to a nation of people whose main concern is pleasing themselves. Reprint.