Let’s begin with a place that is, to appropriate a phrase, both flesh and not. The Brighton Marine Health Center, situated in the porously bordered neighborhood of Allston-Brighton, is the real-life equivalent of the novel’s Enfield Marine VA Hospital, also called the Enfield Marine Public Health Center, also known as either one with the word “Complex” appended. Like many Boston-area locations described in the pages of Infinite Jest, this one is simultaneously, intentionally, spot-on and just off.
First opened in 1940, the actual hospital (according to its website) remains dedicated to “Serving Those Who Have Served Others”—a too-neat slogan that sounds like one of the trite-but-true AA mantras lamented by Wallace’s characters. Present on both Commonwealth Avenue and Warren Street, although not their intersection, the complex as a whole is said to “resemble seven moons orbiting a dead planet.” Indeed there are seven smaller buildings so numbered, although their orbital loop is artistic license, and the novel’s description of its buildings as “iron-colored brick and steep slate roofs” captures the scene, if not the detail.
Likewise exaggerated is the death of its central structure. In the story, the main hospital building is “stripped of equipment and copper wire, defunct,” but in the summer of 2011 I found it operational and even undergoing new construction—if anything, more wire was going in. Although memorably portrayed as the “complexly decaying grounds of Enfield Marine,” I found the real thing to be in a state of convalescence befitting its role in the story and real life.