The Stranger

The Stranger February 23, 2004

The stranger takes a wrong turn in the maze of corridors in the basement of the library. He hears voices ahead and rounds the corner to find a room full of people engaged in a discussion.

The stranger takes a seat and asks what everyone is talking about down here. It's a book discussion group on David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest someone tells him. The group is on its third reading of the book and they're pretty far along — more than 700 pages in, somewhere late in the Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment.

The stranger has never read this book, but he knows a lot about David Foster Wallace. "He's a hack," the stranger says. "The soundtrack to St. Elmo's Fire blew." Someone politely explains that the group is discussing the author David Foster Wallace, not the composer David Foster.

The stranger listens for a bit longer before jumping to his feet and demanding that the group answer a long list of questions about the book.

The group at first attempts to answer the stranger's questions. "She either was disfigured by acid, or not, or maybe it made her even more beautiful," someone says. "That's all in the footnotes — those aren't optional," another says. "Actually, Mario doesn't really have 'hands' as such …" another chimes in.

But the more questions they answer, the more questions the stranger asks.

Finally someone says, "Look, you should just read the book. We've just spent the last six months discussing the first 700 pages and we really don't have time to replay all of that for you just now, okay? If we keep restarting at the beginning every time there's a question, this conversation would never get anywhere."

"Hah!" the stranger says. "You won't answer my long list of questions because you can't answer them! I win!"

The stranger leaves, convinced he is a wise man and a defender of the library from those fools who know nothing about David Foster.

Around the next corner he hears voices again. A discussion group reading Moby Dick.

"Hawthorne," the stranger thinks. "My specialty." He takes a deep breath and begins talking as he enters the room.

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