The ending of the novel is pretty spectacular, almost as much for what isn't there as for what is. So many questions in terms of the narrative and what happens, exactly, are left open ended. Questions drive the intrigue in the narrative throughout the book. Elements, characters, places, events are introduced abruptly and without much background, which immediately leads to questions. Infinite Jest is continually hitting us with questions and shrouding the answers in mystery. Why is Hal the way he is in the opening chapter? Who is Joelle van Dyne? Why does she wear a veil? Why do members of AFR have no legs? Who are John Wayne and Don Gately, and why do they go with Hal to dig up Hal's father's head? Some of these questions are introduced early in the narrative and most of them get answered, either fully or partially, as the book moves along. These questions are always lurking in our mind, and as we get answers, more mystery is injected. But the pacing, and structure of the question/answer ratio keeps your senses fully alert at all times. The narrative is wonderfully structured.
Yet, even after the last page is read, many other questions that have since been introduced, have gone 'unanswered', at least directly. Certainly this is for a reason, and with explicit purpose. I'd like to list some of the questions that are foremost in my mind right now, just so as not to lose them. Many are very fresh in my mind, and I don't want distance to get between me and my memory of events, though the events of this book will be very difficult to forget. What a haunting, profound piece of work this is.
Questions (and therefore perhaps some spoilers):
-Did Joelle really think JOI was joking about making a 'perfect, terminal' entertainment? If not, why lie to Steeply about it? If she's not lying, how come his film really DOES have that affect? Or is she just confused?
-Is there some supernatural, or meta- connection between Hal and Gately? Or any other type of connection? They're effectively the 2 central characters, yet they never meet within the events of the book. Hal mentions digging up JOI's head w/ Gately at beginning of novel, presumably looking backwards. Gately envisions that same scene near the end of the novel, presumably in a premonition, looking forwards (see: 'annular' nature of book, below). Also, Gately, when feverish from pain, has ghostwords come to his mind which only Hal would know and use. Or perhaps they're just JOI injecting the ghostwords.
-Why does JOI's ghost have interest in Gately? Just because Joelle does? As a wraith he had to wait a long time to interface w/ Gately. Why does he care about Gately? Gately killed DuPlessis, then later beat up some other separatist 'nucks (both accidentally), so perhaps JOI sees him as some important player in the intercontinental struggle, or whatever it is. JOI himself also seems to be a key political player, and also in an incidental, indirect way.
-Hal seems to have near out of body experiences. Is this JOI's ghost pulling him out of his body, like, by force? As JOI attempted to do in life with the samizdat? That is; JOI feels Hal is an empty shell of a person, which mirrors Himself. That's what drove him to suicide; Hals anhedonia, and soberly seeing a reflection of himself in Hal. He wanted to bring him out of the shell w/ the sazmidat and failed and now wants to bring him out so he haunts ETA and Hal?
-Did Hal end up dropping DMZ w/ Pemulis? He didn't seem very interested in the idea in his last interface w/ Pemulis. If not, what caused his condition? His condition goes far beyond simple marijuana withdrawal (animal noises, seizures, disconnect between his outward actions and what takes place in his mind i.e. not realizing he's hysterically laughing when he is, thinking he's answering a question eloquently when he's making animal noises and flailing about). Possibly a delayed effect of the samizdat? Why is Hal immune to the samizdat? JOI's ghost claims he showed it to him. Perhaps Hal's being possessed by JOI? Some of the 'symptoms' that Hal exhibits are starting to show before the chronologically later events of chapter 1. That is; Hal is already experiencing disconnect between his inner and outer self (laughing hysterically, not realizing he is). So at least THAT aspect of how he's behaving in chapter 1 can't be explained by him possibly dropping DMZ, but rather by something that has already happened or is happening. Though the seizures/noises could still be attributed dropping DMZ, which I think is most likely (Hal: "Call it something I ate").
-Orin and Avril?
-Is the adult 'Mikey' at the end of novel at AA an adult Pemulis? A flash-forward? I assumed so. Though the adult Mikey is such a dullard, and Pemulis was pretty sharp.. but perhaps that fact is supposed to illustrate the degenerative effects of the drug use.
-Why is AFR (and everyone else) so concerned about a master copy of the samizdat? They already have copies to use to kill people with. It's unlikely, and there's no reason to believe there is, any 'antidote' to be found.
-Who does Hal see outside sitting in the snow on exhibition day? It seemed as though it was a person of importance, but nothing comes of it.
-Annular fusion ('annular' means having to do with rings) is a theme throughout the novel (the way ONAN is seemingly energy dependent through this process of waste-energy recycling, that JOI invented). Cycles and circles recur throughout the novel as well. This all seems to be a metaphor for the structure of the novel itself, which also seems to be circular in nature. As soon as the novel is completed you feel a very compelling need to go back and read Ch. 1, and when Ch.1 is done you feel like just going on to Ch. 2 again etc. Even though you just took multiple months and countless hours to read this novel once to begin with. Clearly Wallace has structured the novel to be 'annular', intentionally, as a kind of literary samizdat in structure. This isn't much of a revelation; the title of the book is the same as the title of the samizdat. Clearly the novel functions as a meta-novel in various ways, and this is one of them.
- JOI didn't like AA because AA didn't tolerate his abstraction. Hal goes to check out AA, but his nature is that of JOI's, and he has a similar aversion to it. Parent-child cycles, and more allusions to the 'annular' themes within the novel. The 12-step meeting that Hal attends is so bizarre and surreal I'm tempted to think that JOI's ghost is attempting to steer Hal away from it, encouraging Hal to use so that he can go on 'functioning', and making him see the meeting as more bizarre than it actually is. JOI's quitting alcohol, combined with a sober view of his son and himself, is what drove him to suicide. So now he is trying to 'save Hal', and he knows, or believes, that Hal needs substances to function. And Hal does, seemingly, need them to function competitively, and possibly just in general.
-Connected with this, after Gately comes into contact with JOI's ghost, at the very end of the novel he starts reliving past memories of drug use. He says he's doing this to 'Abide', and I don't know much about recovery personally, but it seems to me that dwelling on past drug use is not a healthy, normal part of recovery. JOI could be functioning as an agent of 'the Disease' to Gately.
-Wallace has referred to 'Infinite Jest' as a 'failed entertainment'. In the novel James Incandenza moves from area to area in life, after he 'masters' something he takes up a new challenge. He ended his life still directing films because he never became a successful filmmaker, Hal says. 'Infinite Jest' the novel was intended to be the "perfect entertainment", but Joelle says this was tongue-in-cheek.