14 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Ruth van Cleve is walking near Inman Square with Kate, chatting away. She is a recovering crystal meth addict, and Kate finds her unbearable to be around. Ruth was sent to Ennet House after her newborn baby was discovered abandoned in an alley. The baby is now in a hospital in an incubator; its father is in prison for running a pharmaceutical business without a license. The women are headed to an NA meeting. Behind them, Poor Tony Krause eyes their purses.
Before getting clean, Ruth and Kate themselves were in Poor Tony’s position. Although they may not have actually been robbing people in the street, they were still stuck in the constant psychological cycle of trying to score drugs. Now that they are in recovery, Tony perceives them as secure and wealthy enough to steal from.
Hal is watching a cartridge called Blood Sister: One Tough Nun when two girls, Bridge Boone and Frances L. Unwin, come in uninvited and join him. He tells them that he is trying to be alone, and they reply that it is “a public room, for everybody.” Another girl, Jennie Bash, tells Hal that there is an enormous lady wandering around E.T.A. looking for Hal. Blood Sister, a “shocksploitation” cartridge, is one of very few James Incandenza films that saw commercial success.
The name “shocksploitation” positions the film within the exploitation genre. Exploitation films are generally poor-quality films that achieve cult popularity through their deployment of shocking topical content. “Shocksploitation” is thus somewhat redundant as a term.
In the film, a tough nun rescues a drug-addicted, abused girl from the streets of Toronto. The nun herself was once an abused girl living on the streets who was in turn saved by a tough nun—as are all the other nuns in her order. Although Hal and the girls do not realize this, this order of nuns could easily be an analogy for AA. Meanwhile, to her surprise, Joelle is beginning to find her trips to the NA-spinoff Cocaine Anonymous useful. She has developed a problematic attachment to Gately, however. (An endnote clarifies that it’s problematic because Ennet House discourages residents from forming “sentimental attachments” to staffers of the opposite sex.)
Throughout the novel, characters rebel against the rules of the institution to which they belong. However, in Joelle’s case, rebelling against the Ennet House rules could be a matter of life or death. If she is kicked out, she might relapse and kill herself for real—either intentionally or unintentionally. Of course, this does not mean that it is any easier to follow the rules, particularly when they conflict with her own feelings.
At that day’s CA meeting, a man talks about how he used all his family’s money on crack, leaving his pregnant wife and child to starve, and became haunted by the image of his little girl’s hungry face. The man has a powerful storytelling style, and for the first time Joelle feels committed to staying clean no matter what happens. The man says that he still doesn’t know if he will ever see his family again, but that he at least has a new family now in the form of the CA members.
This passage provides a clear example of how recovery programs work by bonding people together in a community. Joelle wants to stay clean not only because she knows that relapsing would ruin (and possibly end) her life, but also because she feels a sense of responsibility to the recovery communities she is in.
In Blood Sister, the girl Blood Sister thought she had saved ends up dying of an overdose. It transpires that the girl was murdered by the Mother Superior. The final part of the film involves an “orgy of retribution” in which dark truths about the order are revealed. In a massive climactic fight scene, Blood Sister has a chance to kill the Mother Superior but instead walks away into the nighttime streets. It is unclear whether she is going to relapse or remain “saved.” Hal finds the whole last part of the film cringe-inducingly heavy-handed.
It is significant that Hal finds the ending of the film heavy-handed considering that it concludes on a note of ambiguity. Usually, one might think of an ending as being heavy-handed if it has an artificial sense of closure or obvious lesson. Yet the very fact that nothing conclusive happens strikes Hal as embarrassing.
Kate and Ruth’s purchases have been snatched. A bearded man wearing an army coat tells them that he saw the whole thing, declaring: “I’m a witness!” Kate can barely see him, though, as she has been hit in the head and is struggling to keep her eyes open. The strap of Ruth’s bag snapped easily, but Kate’s hadn’t, and she found herself being dragged along with her bag until she banged right into a lamppost and fell to the ground.
This scene confirms the sense that everything that happens in Infinite Jest is slightly more violent, gruesome, and spectacular than it might be in real life. Rather than just having her bag snatched, Kate finds herself being dragged straight into a dramatic and painful collision with a lamppost.