Saturday, June 8, 2013

Summer of Jest Part the Fifth: Chapters 9 and some of 10

Even after all these years and all these re-reads, I still find the first part of Chapter 10 of IJ some of the most difficult reading the novel offers -- not for any matters of technique or comprehension or anything, but just the nature of the scene it depicts, the character and the subject matter. And the difficulty only grows, it seems. Eugh.

But first, Michael Pemulis!

A Google image search brought up this absolutely perfect image of him:

Perfect even though he's missing his maroon paratroopers' pants and orange turtleneck, which is the ensemble he wears, along with the yachtsman's cap, whenever he has to meet with Authority. This is one insouciant motherfolklore, Pemulis, though he's got some ridiculous habits that belie his cynical coolness, like the way he always looks both ways before he speaks...

Here we come upon him at long last, in all his pedantic goofy glory. An upperclassman, he is a Big Buddy, assigned a small group of Little Buddies that he might help them acclimate to Enfield Tennis Academy and its rigors, a role he interprets to mean having to spell out for them, in excruciating and painstakingly researched detail, the precise biochemical and psycho-pharmeceutical effects of every last recreational substance that the littler kids might encounter, from crappy synthetic Bob Hope (local argot for marijuana) to high grade designer drugs that still only have chemical nomenclature designations. He lectures blithely on, oblivious to all of the attention his Little Buddies aren't paying him. His future, both within the narrative of the novel and in general, is not great, but he doesn't care. He is Pemulis. Wolf Spiders Rule.

From there we have, it would seem, nowhere to go but down. From Pemulis in his jaunty cap telling his Little Buddies what drugs he would sure as heck avoid were he they, we move to the psych ward of a nearby hospital, where one Kate Gompert, another marijuana addict with all of the same problems Erdedy displayed in Chapter 6, plus crippling clinical depression to boot. She's hospitalized following a very nearly successful suicide attempt. When asked why she wants to hurt herself, she says, she doesn't want to hurt herself, she wants to kill herself. There is a difference.

Kate then goes on to describe The Feeling in excruciating detail, and I do mean excruciating. I've had a brush or two with that kind of depression since I first read this book, and I sometimes catch myself slipping into Gompert-Instead-Of-Sherrod when things get really nasty. As did DFW, we now know. Oh do we know. And really, I should have realized back then that his descriptions and verbalizations on this topic were a bit too spot on to be merely literary productions. And we know that depression is what got him in the end. This passage still really, really scares me.

And so there I'm just gonna stop for this post. Ya gotta be careful with Kate. She can annihilate everything, in a perfectly ordinary, animated voice. Just don't look at those dead eyes. Eugh.


  1. I read Kate Gompert's chapter yesterday with a huge lump in my throat. Again. Every time I read that part, all I can think of is DFW suffering with that...and then not. :(


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