Reach and Pull

Musings on Infinite Jest


with 31 comments

Here’s how this blog is going to work.  Even though I’m the type of person who doesn’t mind having a movie ending “spoiled”, I’m going to try to keep spoilers out of here.  I’ll be using white font for anything that has spoiler potential, and of course with Infinite Jest, there is a lot of potential spoilage, so if you want to read this blog you’ll have to select it with your cursor a chunk at a time.  I’ll be authorizing only a handful of people to post comments here, so if you’re not one of them and you want to add your two cents or reach me, just go to the GoodReads page for Infinite Jest and join the discussion there.  Okay, first up is Lyle.  He’s not a critical character plot-wise, as far as I know.  But there is something about him which no one seems to notice.  Here is an excerpt from a rambling email I sent to one of the people who’ll be commenting:

…I asked my friend who’d read the book twice, who considers IJ his #1 favorite book of all time, who is the smartest person I know, and he had never picked up on it, and I find zero mention of it online, and it occurred to me as soon as JOI’s wraith was revealed, and then it was completely verified later in a hospital scene, and if you picked up on it then you and I might be the only two IJ readers in the world, lol, not quite (well, maybe) but still it seems the majority of readers never picked up on it — which would be astonishing since to me it is so freaking daylight obvious.  Ok, promise again you’ll seal your lips until the blog starts (or if I procrastinate, until 9/14 at the latest, then you’re free to blab/borrow)…Lyle is a wraith.  Did you pick that up?  Ponder it.  He sits atop a fucking towel dispenser lol.  Google images of locker room towel dispensers.  Such a feat is only pulled off by JOI on the heart monitor, later on.  He lives off fucking human sweat.  Sweat, lol!!!  (It’s a sign of how much weirdness there is in IJ overall that readers don’t really get hung up on Lyle’s sweat-licking.)  He never ever moves (remember how wraiths materialize?).  His rarer-than-rare journey across campus the night of Clip’s death was a sensation for the students…but they are never depicted as actually seeing him take that trip.  The students never realize he is a wraith, because he is continuously materialized from sitting so utterly still and peaceful.  Most important of all:  JOI escorts Lyle to see Gately, for some of Gately’s sweat (Gately gets cat-tongue-licked, it’s there, trust me — which by itself necessarily means that Lyle is a wraith, when you think about it, regardless of whether it’s JOI or Lyle doing the licking).  JOI and Lyle were life buddies and now they are wraith buddies (JOI may have even know Lyle-as-a-wraith while he [JOI] was alive, and if so it’d open up a can of worms about whether his knowledge of impending wraithhood affected his film career, among many other things).  And now, to bring it full circle narrator-wise, do you remember the odd 1st person insertion after the reader is introduced to Lyle, the thing about (and I’m sorry I don’t have my book with me, or else I’d quote this passage with a page number, my copy is absolutely fucking littered with cross-referenced marginalia like yours probably and I’d find it quickly) “I would like to be like Lyle” or “I wish I could be like Lyle” or “I think it would be great to be like Lyle”.  Why in the fuck would Hal say that, right?  It’s JOI, expressing his admiration as a fellow wraith for how well Lyle materializes because of how utterly at peace Lyle’s soul is.  Or…actually, in your Hal scenario, a Hal looking-back with the lens of knowing there are wraiths and Lyle’s one might say the same thing.  But anyway, Lyle is a wraith.  Absolutely, 100%, without-a-trace-of-a-doubt.  If you hadn’t picked up on that, aren’t you shocked you didn’t?  If you did pick up on it, aren’t you shocked there are people who still haven’t?


…LMAO, and if it turns out there are already 12 lengthy thesises about Lyle-as-a-wraith, then how much of a jackass do I look like right now, ahahahahahaha.


Written by reachandpull

August 26, 2008 at 6:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

31 Responses

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  1. Testing, 1, 2, 3, 5, 109…


    August 27, 2008 at 7:20 am

  2. You son of a bitch Wallace. You’d better not have read this blog.

    May you haunt the world. May you rest in peace.

    May NO ONE ELSE follow your lead. Well, when it comes to what you did.

    FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. FUCK. You fucking IDIOT. Hang THIS, you fucking prophet.

    IF (BIG if) you’re still around, I’m betting you know what to do now. Help us.

    Quisenberry's Flaw

    September 14, 2008 at 5:42 am

  3. RIP DFW. I thought I was the only person on the planet who thought Lyle was a wraith. I was too shy to ask him when he signed my copy of Oblivion in 2004. Now it is a permanently unresolvable point of debate.

    Ken Flagg

    September 15, 2008 at 1:43 am

  4. I never thought it meant he was a wraith. I thought it meant that he was doing transcendental meditation. That’s as plausible as his being a wraith. As for his Clipperton ordeal, students take photos of him crossing the grounds, so they certainly saw him. If Lyle was a wraith, there’s no way he could there just as Clipperton demapped himself. He’d have weeks to get there. Plus Lyle wasn’t by himself, he was walking with Lateral Alice.


    October 23, 2008 at 5:35 am

  5. Good god, how much evidence do Jesse and I need to present? Again, first off, look up towel dispensers in a google search. Here, to help you, a link to such a search: So, ummm…Okay? Are we done speculating? Lyle IS a wraith. The Clipperton incident and his walking there and being photographed are certainly exceptional for a wraith. But he IS a wraith. Okay Terry? Nothing else is plausible. DFW wrote him as a wraith. It’s that obvious. Look again.


    November 14, 2008 at 3:44 pm

  6. Wallace was a big believer in the “intentional fallacy” so your whole approach to the book–that it’s to be “figured out”–seems wrongheaded to me, even putting aside the fact that your conclusion doesn’t change when the evidence does (i.e., your misreading the Clipperton section).


    November 15, 2008 at 7:07 pm

  7. Sorry, but I don’t give a rat’s ass what literary theory Wallace was a believer in, I only care about what is presented plain-as-day in the book. You were right to correct me about the kids photographing Lyle. But you are wrong to assume that your one correction negates my observation (not a theory, an OBSERVATION) that Lyle is (IS) a wraith. Again, please help yourself to a google search of towel dispensers. There are certainly some physical anomalies I can’t figure out in IJ, first and foremost the state of Marathe’s wife’s head. But it seems (on memory, I can’t even find my copy now) that every other thing in the book that contradicts the physical laws of our universe is the result of wraithhood. Lucien Antitoi’s flying call-to-arms. The curious tennis ball from the Hal-Ortho match. The ghostly re-arrangements at ETA. Just about every single thing concerning JOI’s wraith. (Remember him? The ghost that materializes by being still?) The real clincher regarding Lyle-is-a-wraith for me, is the cat lick. Perhaps you missed it, or don’t remember? The hospitalized Gately gets sweat licked off him like a cat. This is an either/or situation regarding who-is-doing-the-licking, either side of which confirms that Lyle is a wraith. If it is JOI doing the licking, then sweat-licking is something wraiths do. If it is Lyle, then sure you might think a merely TM-guru Lyle could be in the room for some reason, but tell me: WHAT reason. Why the hell would Lyle from ETA’s locker room be in immobilized Don Gately’s hospital room, licking Gately’s sweat? Lyle IS a wraith. A superior wraith, one who appears (pun intended) to be extraordinarily at peace, and is perhaps able then to perform extraordinary feats for a wraith when he so wills it, like walking across the ETA campus on the extraordinary night of Clipperton’s suicide. Perhaps the students, when they developed their film, captured nothing. Or perhaps they caught a ghost on film. People claim to have done that kind of thing all the time.


    November 19, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    • There’s also a brief scene where Lyle is hovering over a towel dispenser, which pretty much seals the deal as far as his being a wraith is concerned.


      April 28, 2011 at 6:39 pm

      • He’s literally hovering over it? Are you sure? Got a page number? That would be proof, for sure. Thanks.


        May 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm

  8. Man, I wish I hadn’t been slightly but significantly crazy (Jest can do that to you if you’re already in a precarious state) when I created this blog. Otherwise I’d still be kind of proud about being the first reader to publicly recognize Lyle as a wraith. I still am (the next person to do it was part of Infinite Summer a year later and he seems to think he was the first), but now I’m just not that thrilled about this blog being the evidence. It’s too wrapped up in the tangents of a hypomanic fugue. Bleh.


    May 24, 2011 at 8:05 pm

  9. More proof that Lyle is a wraith!!! At the end of the Loach section, pg 971, DFW writes “Loach, even w/o an official B.A., being given an Asst. Trainer’s job at E.T.A., a job he was promoted from just months later when the then-Head Trainer suffered the terrible accident that resulted in all locks being taken off E.T.A. sauna’s doors and the sauna’s maximum temperature being hard-wired down to no more than 50 degrees C.”

    Dead head trainer from sweat room accident = Lyle Wraith!

    This also makes more sense when you add in the thought that wraiths are at peace with themselves… he would HAVE to be at peace with his death to continue to want to be in sweaty rooms, right?


    May 24, 2012 at 9:31 pm

  10. I didn’t see this here but if it is then ignore me. Near the end of the book it is mentioned that a head trainer at eta died in an accident involving being locked in a sauna. Sweat. Trainer. Lyle. Further evidence that he is a wraith.


    November 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm

  11. My apologies for not seeing until now that Jenni or Matt’s comments needed approval. I believe you guys, especially Jenni, just did the whole QED thing, the cherry on top of a QED pie. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


    April 2, 2013 at 7:50 pm

  12. Allow me to re-state that, with more appropriate glee: HO-LY FUCK-ING SHIT, YOU PROVED IT! 🙂


    April 2, 2013 at 7:52 pm

  13. […]   And the Twitter screenname to be included somewhere next to the link […]

  14. FAIR WARNING: Don’t read this if you haven’t finished the book or are still trying to figure things out on your own. Whether I’m right or wrong, reading this will ruin quite a bit of the plot.

    May I just say…I appreciate this idea that Lyle is the former trainer, current wraith and I think it’s highly plausible; the whole ‘dehydrated sailor drinking sea water’ thing that somebody posted on another site, but I gotta disagree…Mainly because Hal and others have been at ETA since its establishment. There’s never once a mention or an afterthought or a raised eyebrow that there’s this ghost hanging around in the weight room? A whole population of 8-17 year olds are just totally cool with an acknowledged dead guy hanging out in the weight room? I just can’t buy that. Also, he has physical interactions with objects. I’m not sure, but doesn’t JOI explicitly tell Gately that that’s something a wraith can’t do?

    I realize this kinda makes that last sentence in the story about Loach seem kind like a waste and leading up to nothing and it definitely seems like it fits in somewhere, I just don’t necessarily know if it fits in there. The only way that would work for me is that there’s a period, right before Avril drives JOI to his final trip to detox (even though he was sober, which kinda gives me this inkling that Avril plays some sort of wonderfully sinister role in the story that people are overlooking – The book is named after a line from Hamlet, after all), where Lyle disappeared. Maybe the administration didn’t tell the students about the death of somebody at the school for whatever purposes? Outside of that, I just can’t figure that everybody is just overlooking this when they wore black arm bands for more than a year after the death of JOI.

    Instead..I’ll offer this…Lyle was the soldier talked about in Moment magazine who was locked in a room singing Ethel Merman with dead on accuracy.

    A couple of things to back this idea up…

    The premise one has to agree to when considering this is that hearsay and rumor are ‘too crazy to be true but still true’ throughout the book. There are plenty of examples of this. With that said…Axford actually says it when Hal, Pemulis, and him are looking over and discussing the DMZ.

    Second, I vaguely recall it being mentioned that JOI met Lyle at an institution while detoxing and he brought him back with him.

    Third, there’s a footnote in the book (I can’t remember exactly which one) that mentions a user of DMZ who sculpted/painted a piece of art which depicts a person moving incredibly fast through time and space (sounds kinda wraith-like, no?)

    Also, I’m not sure exactly where this falls into the timeline of events, but when Hal admits that he was a weed addict and unloads his mind on Mario, he says that Lyle won’t lick the sweat off of him. If it’s the case that he went to Lyle after taking the DMZ, wouldn’t it make sense that he won’t lick him? Because it’s in his glands and (like when JOI would get drunk, so would Lyle) Lyle wants absolutely nothing to do with it?

    This one is a stretch…When JOI was depressed, Lyle used to read him poetry (Whitman, I think?) in the voices of cartoon characters. This is reminiscent of the idea of someone singing show tunes in an Ethel Merman voice with scary accuracy, no?

    I think it may be the case that Lyle synthesized himself with DMZ whereas Hal still has not. (I could go into the reasons of why Hal is so much different than everyone else in the book but that’s like a thesis paper and I’m not really interested in typing it and it’s a bit off topic anyway).

    Anyway, Hal now is living his nightmare, singing show tunes while screaming for help (laughing when trying to help Ortho, Ortho/Mario thinking he’s incredibly sad for no apparent reason, and the whole thing with the college deans) while Lyle, maybe by finally coming to terms with ‘not underestimating objects’, maybe through help from JOI and cultivating a similar mold that Hal ate, maybe…I don’t know…I’m halfway through the book for my second time in the last couple of months and it’s just a theory I’ve been cooking up because after reading a whole bunch of people’s ideas that aren’t really supported by any evidence, I’m kinda just ignoring mostly everyone when considering this book.

    Furthermore, even if Lyle is a wraith, what does provide to the greater overall narrative? So what? He’s a wraith. I just don’t understand how that progresses anything or answers much of anything. Like I said, I don’t know…it could be both: He could be the former trainer and he could be the soldier. But still…that’s my take on it.


    May 3, 2013 at 5:54 am

    • Footnote 57: ‘Ingesters’ accounts of the temporal-perception consequences of DMZ in the literature, are, as far as Pemulis is concerned, vague and inelegant and more like mystical in the Tibetan-Dead-Book vein than rigorous or referentially clear; one account Pemulis doesn’t completely get but can at least get the neuro-titillating gist of is one monograph’s toss-off quote from an Italian lithographer who’d ingested DMZ once and made a lithograph comparing himself on DMZ to a piece of like Futurist sculpture, plowing at high knottage through time itself, kinetic even in stasis, plowing temporally ahead, with time coming off him like water in sprays and wakes.’


      May 3, 2013 at 6:41 am

  15. Appreciate the comment! Great, great effort. Interesting, the Merman thing. But, you are simply wrong about Lyle not being a wraith throughout the entire book. I encourage you to read the above post and comments very carefully again. It is literally proven that Lyle is a wraith. The ultimate proof appropriately enough coming at the very end of the book, almost as if (hmmm) it is meant to be a mind-blowing twist just then realized. But, gone unrealized by the entirety of the book’s critics and readers for over a decade.

    What Lyle’s wraithness does for the book is reveal the extent to which wraiths and wraithhood play an invisible role throughout the entire book. Again, read this whole blog. Trust me. But, read it all. For example, the Merman soldier: What could possibly explain it? Perhaps (or, almost certainly, in my opinion) the soldier was in effect possessed by Merman’s wraith, lol. Really, though. Yes, also, wraiths can subtly impact the physical world. Do not underestimate objects. Who said that? The rearranged ornaments, Stice’s spooky tennis success: Wraiths. When in doubt: Wraiths. Like that “THEREFORE ALIENS” meme, except not a joke.

    Now, there is another lens through which to read the book simultaneously. Also initially discovered and first explained at length by yours truly, apparently. You can find it all in the comments under the latest entry, about the Facebook event. Hold onto yer fuckin’ hat, lmao!


    May 3, 2013 at 6:41 am

    • I appreciate you getting back to me so quickly.

      I hear ya. And you’re right, ignoring the idea that wraiths play a large role in the book would be a mistake. And yes, that line isn’t there for nothing, it obviously has some sort of significance that shouldn’t be underestimated. But I still just can’t wrap my head around the idea that he died at ETA, while Hal and various other current students were there and nobody really pays it any mind.

      And I don’t mean to say he doesn’t have wraith-like qualities, I guess I just ascribe them to a different cause. I think the way you have it, Lyle dying in the steam room, it’s a piece of the puzzle that fits nicely, but I’m just not willing to acquiesce just yet. I’ll read more and let you know if/when I do.

      Good talking to you.


      May 3, 2013 at 7:24 am

  16. Hey, just a quick update with a piece of information you might find helpful in making your case:

    Page 433 near the bottom, while talking about Mario cleaning up after the Clipperton incident (in the Year of the Whopper), it says: ‘Lyle was long gone by this time’.

    That would indicate to me that he did indeed die in the sauna because he certainly didn’t go anywhere and the only other time it’s mentioned that he leaves was for about a week, right before JOI’s death, which was Year of the Tuck’s Medicated Pad.

    So my guess is he died sometime between Clipperton shooting himself, after the numerous times the police come and go to examine the crime scene, and Mario cleaning up the mess (which could have been a period of months).

    Maybe the reason nobody pays attention to the fact that he’s dead is because there’s really no discernible difference between his life before or after death. i.e. the fact that he’s walking around on campus leaves students so awe-struck that they actually take pictures. Although, I still don’t understand why nobody who is aware of his death finds it pretty incredible that he’s still there…but who knows…

    Anyway..I just wanted to add that so as not to confuse anybody with the nonsense I ‘contributed’ before. As much as I may have liked the idea, I’m willing to admit it’s, in all likelihood, a debunked theory.

    Reachandpull, I will now leave your page to its own devices. Thanks for your work and sharing your thoughts on here.


    May 7, 2013 at 12:58 pm

  17. Interesting find! Could just refer to Lyle on that one evening, but with DFW ya never know, could be a loaded reference to Lyle already being long dead and gone. I agree that Lyle’s walk was a sensation for the reason you mention. As for why the students had been so unphased by his wraithness…consider what else unphases people. Feral infants. Maranthe’s wife. Blind tennis prodigies. Wheelchair assassins. Etc.

    I insist, again, though, that Lyle has been dead throughout the entire book.

    Please, call me Paul. Paul Chandler. (The source of the anagram “Reach and Pull”, lol)

    Glad you commented, Adam. Comment as often as you wish.


    May 7, 2013 at 2:34 pm

  18. Not sure if you’re still looking at this thread (sure hope you are). I just finished my first read of IJ (started back around immediately on a second one) and came away from it fairly confident also that Lyle was a wraith.

    I was even thinking that while in the hospital Don, not being terribly worldly, might have mistaken JOI’s Chinese looking can of Coke for the Diet Caffeine-Free kind that Lyle prefers, which looks quite a bit different than the regular can, which are also not that terribly common. But I digress.

    The thorn in my side as far as Lyle-as-wraith goes is that Lyle’s death would have been a tragedy at ETA penultimate only to Jim’s death (and then Clipperton’s). And so wouldn’t the students have been freaked out and/or at least understood that Lyle was a ghost when they go visit him and seek advice? At that, wouldn’t they have speculated that some of the shenanigans at ETA (ie misplaced and moved objections) could have been accounted for by his ghost? This to me seems incongruous. Am I missing something? Any insight?


    November 27, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    • Good questions. If he died in the sauna accident many years before, then we can assume that subsequent classes at ETA may not have been aware that the weirdo who sits utterly still in their locker room is a ghost, since his perpetual motionlessness perpetually substantiates him, makes him look and feel physically real. Perhaps JOI was the only person left on campus who remembered Lyle pre-death and was then aware of Lyle’s wraithness. (But wait, there must’ve been some other long-time ETA-ers who also remembered and knew, hmmm…) Also, at the time when he died I don’t think he was nearly as notable and beloved a presence in the ETA community as he became post-death as a stealth wraith. Death became him, lol. All the wisdom he shares with students was acquired after he died, I think. Before then he was just an unsung employee with a typical early-80’s “Let’s Get Physical” fitness-guru look, I’m guessing. Anyway, the dreamworld wide-lens on the novel could help explain any such good logistical questions. “Plot hole? Fear not, it’s all a dream, with bits and pieces of dream-logic (or, non-logic) plugging up any such holes.”


      December 6, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    • Also, interesting possibility you raise, about the Coke can. I remember how weird those gold cans looked when they first came out. But that would undermine how the Coke demonstrates JOI’s ability to instantaneously travel about in his strange dimension at light-speed whenever he wishes, or so it seems to those in Don’s and Hal’s dimension.


      December 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm

  19. Wow, a sad insight just occurred to me. The imagery Lyle uses in his didactic analogies…opening a door, escaping a cage…and lest we forget, never to underestimate objects…exactly the kind of vocabulary and emphasis one should expect a man who perished in a horrific sauna accident to draw from and use. One can imagine a number of scenarios for just how the sauna accident transpired. Perhaps he forgot a key to exit, or he kept trying the same few keys out of a crowded ring, or maybe he couldn’t open a jammed door, or he got pinned under weights he decided to bring inside the sauna for some multitasking, weights that turned out to be too heavy. (I suppose this is another little “Eureka!” for me to notch on my wall of Infinite Jest Interpretation, lol, a wall only known to myself and the dozen or so people who’ve paid attention to this blog.)


    December 6, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    • I’m not sure I’m convinced one way or another about Lyle being a wraith. Certainly there’s no conclusive evidence one way or the other (much like many of the contested meanings of things throughout IJ) BUT if Lyle is a wraith I find him a much more satisfying exponent of the mysterious object-movements at ETA (particularly in Stice’s bedroom – though it does throw up some potentially sinister implications for Lyle generally given his counselling of Stice about it … And does that have broader implications for his advice generally?) than JOI. I just never liked the explanation that JOI was moving of objects – couldn’t understand the motivation or see any real trail of motivation anywhere else in book. Given Lyle’s discussions with Stice though (and potential previous understandings of the impacts of DMZ) it sits much more comfortably with me that he was responsible. Rather than JOI. Doesn’t prove anything of course, but is slightly more satisfying from my perspective …


      January 2, 2015 at 5:48 am

      • The conclusive evidence is definitely there. The sitting on and hovering above a towel dispenser, the ghostly licking of Gately in the hospital room, and the story of the sauna victim near the end, who was clearly Lyle, hence the sweat thing. It’s a proven fact that Lyle is supposed to be a wraith, as much as such a thing can be proven.

        It also makes little sense for Wallace to introduce us to the physics of an elaborate non-figurative wraith dimension only for JOI to be the sole wraith ever featured, apart from the brief snapshot of a soaring Antitoi. The completely-still Christ-Buddha dude who lives off nothing but sweat and who almost never leaves his perch in the locker room and who was a confidant of the only other wraith fully described is bound to be a good candidate, anyway. Wallace does seem to have intended for Lyle’s wraithness to be subtle, for the hallmarks to sneak by the reader in the stream of all the novel’s other implausibilities. Until the hospital lick, which I suspect was meant to blow our minds with the sudden recognition that Lyle was a wraith the whole time we’d been reading about him. Too subtle, I guess. I should have found a way to pester Wallace about that directly, but he didn’t exactly give me much time to figure out a way, lol. Sigh.

        As for the wraith haunting/mentoring Stice, it need not be either JOI or Lyle. The wraith dimension posited presumably includes innumerable wraiths, not just the three ones we’re specifically shown, and includes wraiths with — for lack of a better term — bad intentions, wraiths allied with the story’s antagonists, i.e., whoever comprises the world of wraiths meant to receive the Antitoi brother’s clarion call. The book’s universe must be positively (or, negatively, a la figurants) teeming with wraiths. Only two are physically seen by other characters because only those two muster the patience to be motionless for ungodly (or, godly) stretches of time in order to be seen physically. Other wraiths could still perform the less-difficult task of tuning into consciousnesses, altering thoughts, enhancing speech, relaying information between themselves. And perhaps interfering with objects, which may be less a concern special to Lyle than a warning that objects are subject to mischief from all wraiths. I don’t know. I do think it’s extremely unlikely for Lyle to harbor any sinister intent, even if it was him spooking Stice. Contemplate other wraiths.


        January 2, 2015 at 5:42 pm

      • Hmmm, I think that you’re getting into territory of “something that explains everything explains nothing” by ascribing everything to random unknown wraiths. The book’s too tight with its relationships to go that far.

        Interestingly I’m part way through another re-read atm though and just came across this:

        “[Stice] wholeheartedly apologises for the time last spring he got Struck and Axford to distract Lyle and the Krazy-Glued Lyle’s left buttock’s Spandex to the wooden top of the towel dispenser. Stice says he realises he’s he last guy with any right to come to Lyle cap in hand after all the cracks about the diet and hairstyle and all”. I’m more convinced that Lyle is responsible for Stice’s room being messed with IF he is actually a wraith than anyone else


        January 3, 2015 at 4:47 am

      • You may be right about me going overboard with the notion of wraiths-in-the-machine. Definitely right about the tightness of the relationships. Fractals, triangulation, parabolas, mirrors…almost too tight, lol. What you shouldn’t forget, though, is that the book is concerned just as much with the absent, ignored, and unseen as it is with the present, prominent, and visible. Figurants, Loach’s experiment, Found Drama, the plot’s implied climax we readers are supposed to extrapolate, the underlying gasket structure built by subtraction…and the wraiths. Think of all the deaths described, particularly the traumatic ones, which are bountiful. Each one — like JOI’s nuking, the Antitoi’s impaling, and Lyle’s steaming — must, per the mechanics JOI tells Gately, necessarily produce a wraith in the same parallel dimension inhabited by the others. That’s a lot of wraiths, then, no? And a lot of (competing) motives to keep influencing the dimension left behind. It can’t just be the three wraiths we meet who go about infiltrating minds, spying, pranking, etc. Right? I think Wallace was positing a sprawling iceberg-deep metaphysical concept, not just whipping up a narrative gimmick. Again, though, I might be going overboard.

        When I finally get to reading it a second time myself, I’ll pay closer attention to Stice’s wraithy experiences. Your eye is sharp, though. Lyle may be the one haunting Stice, given the motive you detected. Still leaning toward it being a separate antagonistic wraith, not a friendly one like Lyle, even if Stice unknowingly recreated the worst circumstance of Lyle’s life by trapping him in place with adhesive. Lyle seems to have transcended the urge for revenge, is my sense. Thank you for commenting, and please continue to post updates as you catch more details.


        January 3, 2015 at 7:33 pm

  20. I initially thought the same thing, but I’m casting my vote for Lyle not being a wraith. While it would explain a lot, it leaves too many holes — the obvious one being that nobody makes a big deal out of him being dead. Also noted is that he does indeed walk across the grounds at one point (to presumably talk Eric Clipperton out of blowing his brains out). If Lyle was a wraith, couldn’t he have teleported to Clipperton or something anyway?

    This explanation seems more fitting to me: He’s obviously a dude who’s very in-touch with dying and the wraith-dimension. He levitates over a towel dispenser. He lives off sweat. He meditates on his own demise. He gives supernaturally wise advice. It’s more likely that he just had a near-death experience in the sauna while working as the ETA head trainer. After all, it never says the previous head trainer actually died.

    Also, it’s hinted that DMZ allows people to sort-of enter the wraith dimension. Descriptions of flying through time and what-not. Actual death might not be required to do wraith-like things. Kind of unrelated, but in The Pale King, Shane Drinion (Mr. X) is able to levitate just by concentrating really hard.

    In short, my man Lyle is sort of like a hippie who does lots of DMZ and meditates and stuff and almost died in a sauna, which makes him really in touch with the whole wraith dimension, even though he never actually died. That explains why people don’t flip out when they see him and also why Stice was able to glue his ass to the towel dispenser.

    BtW, Himself is almost without a doubt the one who’s harassing (and later kind of possessing) Ortho Stice. The entire book is kind of about a father (JOI) trying to communicate with his son (Hal). By the end of the book, Hal has finally come alive on the inside (“I am in here”), by taking DMZ and possibly watching The Entertainment (Himself intended Hal to do both).

    Hal is preparing for his big match against Ortho (possessed by James), which means that, at last, the two will have a “conversation” via a tennis match.


    July 3, 2015 at 3:21 am

    • Thanks for your input. However, your vote is palpably wrong. It was obviously not a “near-death” experience, it was full-death. As the commenter Jenni quoted: “Loach, even w/o an official B.A., being given an Asst. Trainer’s job at E.T.A., a job he was promoted from just months later when the then-Head Trainer suffered the terrible accident that resulted in all locks being taken off E.T.A. sauna’s doors and the sauna’s maximum temperature being hard-wired down to no more than 50 degrees C.” Being locked in a sauna hotter than 122 degrees Fahrenheit is not survivable. Granted, there are some other impossible things going on in the book, too, like Marathe’s wife’s head. (The book’s universe is ultimately a dream, in my opinion, DMZ = DMT = the engine of dreams. Some kind of wraith-dream matrix. It’s complicated.) But there are at the very least two other wraiths in the book, JOI and Lucien Antitoi, both of whom died horribly. Lyle’s death would have been just as horrible. He became a wraith. He is the fellow wraith JOI’s wraith invites to lick the absolute stranger Don Gately. His wraithness is what lets him levitate and perch himself impossibly on objects, just like JOI’s wraith does in the hospital room. It’s why Lyle can live on nothing but human sweat…because he’s not actually alive.

      Nobody makes a big deal out of his being a wraith simply because they don’t realize it. Appearing to walk across a campus is manageable for a wraith, although according to JOI’s explanation of wraithhood it would take an excruciatingly long time to manufacture such a thing from the wraith’s perspective. Lyle would not have chosen to walk as a mere mode of transport, just to get from point A to point B. It was probably done to disguise his wraithness. If he had teleported from his eternal perch, everyone would have been like “What in the unholy fuck?” and all the kids would have freaked out, etc.

      There is nothing to suggest that a wraith who is as expert at substantiating as Lyle is couldn’t be glued. But even if the glue didn’t work, the attempt to lock him in place as a prank would have brought up very bad memories for Lyle, given the way he died.

      If you were to concede that Lyle is a wraith, how would that change your interpretations?


      July 13, 2015 at 6:07 pm

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