One of the many joys of Infinite Jest, made possible because of its tremendous length, is its massive cast of characters. The deeper you go, the more characters you encounter and, as you go even deeper, the intersecting lines between the characters become apparent. Just take a look at this diagram. To celebrate the book’s huge ensemble, we’re counting down the 10 best characters over the next two weeks, culminating with the #1 character on Friday, April 13. On that day, we’ll post one giant composite article with all 10 characters. For the list, we’re excluding the book’s two “main” characters, Hal and Gately, because they’re given time and consideration that the rest of the characters don’t get, and thus can’t be evaluated in the same way. So join us as we reveal our favorites and be sure to tell us whether you agree of disagree with our selections in the comments!
Today, we’ll look at the recovering addict who once loved a woman by the name of Bonk.
7. Bruce Green
Bruce Green saved up for a low-slung old car and practiced Attitude on the aunt who’d taken him in. He developed a will.
Bruce Green is the book’s second-best minor character. He’s neither a major character nor a single appearance character like Mrs. Waites or Barry Loach, but he elevates the scenes he’s in and has an engrossing personal backstory.
The only significant detail we get of Bruce’s early childhood is the death of his parents, a story that begins on Christmas when Bruce’s dad has little Bruce give his mother a can of macadamia nuts, her “favorite and most decadent special-treat food.” However, Bruce Sr. works for Acme Novelties ‘N Notions and is a prankster, so when Mrs. Green opens the can, a coiled cloth snake “sprongs out with an ejaculatory spring.” Mrs. Green has a fatal cardiac. As a result, Bruce Sr. “caves psycho-spiritually,” a breakdown that reaches its low point as Bruce Sr. packs a case of Acme’s Blammo Cigars “with vengefully lethal tetryl-based high explosives,” and, as a result, a “V.F.W., three Rotarians, and 24 Shriners had been grotesquely decapitated across Southeastern Ohio before the federal A.T.F. traced the grisly forensic fragments back to B. Green Sr.’s Blammo lab.”
After that, “Bruce Green uttered not another out-loud word until his last year of grade school, living by then in Winchester with his late mother’s sister, a decent by Dustbowly-looking Seventh-Day Adventists who never once pressed Brucie to speak, probably out of sympathy.”
But, actually, the first time we meet Bruce in the book is quite early on, and is in relation to his “dead heart’s one love ever”:
In the eighth American-educational grade, Bruce Green fell dreadfully in love with a classmate who had the unlikely name of Mildred Bonk. The name was unlikely because if ever an eighth-grader looked like a Daphne Christianson or a Kimberly St.-Simone or something like that, it was Mildred Bonk.
Bruce Green essentially functions as a foil in Infinite Jest, making characters and scenes around him better. Take this description of Mildred Bonk, from the same section as the above passage, which we’re only given access to because of Bruce:
She was the kind of fatally pretty and nubile wraithlike figure who glides through the sweaty junior-high corridors of every nocturnal emitter’s dreamscape. Hair that Green had heard described by an overwrought teacher as ‘flaxen’; a body which the fickle angle of puberty–the same angle who didn’t even seem to know Bruce Green’s zip code–had visited, kissed, and already left, back in sixth; legs which not even orange Keds with purple-glitter-encrusted laces could make unserious. Shy, iridescent, coltish, pelvically anfractuous, amply busted, given to diffident movements of hand brushing flaxen hair from front of dear creamy forehead, movements which drove Bruce Green up a private tree. A vision in a sundress and silly shoes. Mildred L. Bonk.
Bruce gets the girl and lands a job at Leisure Time Ice (“the huge blocks of man-sized ice with flaws way inside like trapped white faces”) delivering ice to gas stations, but Mildred leaves with a man who has a ranch in New Jersey and takes their daughter Harriet Bonk-Green with her. He’s left with a tattoo of Mildred Bonk’s name over a spear-pierced heart, which will be “on his jilted right triceps forever.”
Bruce’s post-Bonk appeal is his relationship to two men: Randy Lenz and Gately, both of which are touching and hearbreaking. With Lenz, Green begins joining him on his late night walks, just to be in the company of someone. With Gately (whom Bruce plays cribbage with in the wee dead hours because he can’t sleep, and from whom Bruce asks for permission to go to the bathroom), there is an quiet friendship that culminates when Bruce saves Gately from being shot a second time by putting the Nuck in a headlock.
Bruce has tremendous good in him, despite the multiple tragedies that befall him. He is an addict who just wants to get better and be liked.