Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer of Jest Part the Seventh: A Good Chunk of Chapter 11

I will persist in referring to Hugh Steeply, agent for the United States' Bureau of Unspecified Services, as Helen because he spends pretty much the whole novel in drag and seems to enjoy it rather a lot. At any rate, I am always somewhat jarred on the odd occasion when, as here, he is referred to by his actual name.

When I first encountered him and his foil, Remy Marathe, I didn't know what to make of them or what in the world they could possibly have to do with anything else, but that's been true for almost everybody we've met at this stage of the novel; the only stuff that hangs together involves the Incandenzas. This scene, too, involves them, but in ways we (mostly) won't even begin to realize until much later on, so for now it just hangs there, like Helen's and Remy's giant shadows over Tucson as they meet in semi-secrecy to discuss, as it turns out, what has happened to the medical attache and dozens of other people who have come into his apartment looking for him or for his wife or for the neighbors and later emergency services types who have gone in, never to return, all just happily watching the unlabeled cartridge (referred to as a samizdat) on infinite replay; it's so entertaining no one is eating or sleeping or using sanitary facilities, no one is doing anything but watching, turning into the giant eyeballs JOI once posited in a film...

Helen thinks Marathe's cell of Les Assassins des Fateuils Rollents (Wheelchair Assassins) are somehow behind this weird form of attack-by-entertainment ; the medical attache is also of French Canadian descent, after all, and is of some strategic importance to ONAN by way of his job for the Saudi Minister of Entertainment and whatnot. Marathe scoffs at this but doesn't really convince Helen. Nor does he convince me. Guys weird enough to deliberately jump in front of trains that they might lose or cripple their legs and be confined to wheelchairs as part of an initiation into anti-ONAN terror protesting the "gifting" of most of uninhabitably polluted New England, inhabited by devastating locust-like herds of feral hamsters (as we see in an interlude, here) and worse monsters, to Canada, well, they're weird enough to hit people with fatally entertaining film cartridges, too.

Oh, the Concavity (which Canadians refer to, usually resentfully, as the Convexity). Any other writer would treat us to more than a few odd glimpses of its wilds, but DFW just teases us with tantalizing little bits of it, because while its existence is vital to the backstory of IJ, that's all it is: part of the milieu. I'm sure some enterprising souls have written Concavity-based fan fiction, though, involving fighting off giant overgrown feral infants and whatnot, and I bet it's a hell of a lot of fun to read, but we're concerned with the place's geopolitical importance here, not its phenomena. One staggers to think of how much longer IJ would be if DFW had included more than just the odd vignette...

At any rate, here we leave them, Steeply getting ready to go back undercover as a journalist who shall shortly be pestering Orin Incandenza; Marathe to his double-life as an agent for the Wheelchair Assassins and as an informant for the Office of Unspecified Services (they have been providing unspecified [heh] medical care for Remy's wife in exchange) -- or is he? Is he only pretending to betray the Assassins? Intrigue upon intrigue!


  1. The endnotes regarding Marathe's affiliations crack me up.

  2. Marathe's pretending to pretend to pretend always cracks me up. So do Helen's cock-eyed bazoombas. Hee!

  3. Gawd, I know. Really impossible not to ever think of her as Scott Crane's "Flying Nun" disguise in LAST CALL. Which gives Helen's character a whole new dimension of weird.


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