(click to enlarge panorama)
The Enfield Tennis Academy, often abbrev. to E.T.A., is by far the most important invented Boston-area location in all of Infinite Jest. And though it is among the most fictional spots explored in this series, it too has a basis in reality. While there is no tennis academy to be found in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood where much of the story takes place, the large hill on which it is supposed to sit does in fact exist, looming above the Brighton Marine complex, as described in the novel:
Behind Unit #7 begins far and away the biggest hill in Enfield MA. The hillside is fenced, off-limits, densely wooded and without sanctioned path.
Every word of that is true, except of course for the “Enfield” part. The hill is bounded by Commonwealth Avenue to the southeast, Warren Street to the north-northeast, Cambridge Street to the northwest, and Washington Street to the southwest. What is not true is what is said to exist at its summit:
E.T.A. is laid out as a cardioid, with the four main inward-facing bldgs. convexly rounded at the back and sides to yield a cardioid’s curve, with the tennis courts and pavilions at the center and the staff and students’ parking lots in back … the school’s maze of tennis courts lies now on what used to be the hill’s hilltop before the Academy’s burly cigar-chomping tennis-court contractors shaved the curved top off and rolled the new top flat…
Every word of that is fiction, but the hilltop does include several features that may put one in mind of the Enfield Tennis Academy—and which surely inspired David Foster Wallace to imagine it. By deductive reasoning, we can identify some of the hill’s key features which contributed to the inception of E.T.A., and because the Brighton Marine Health Center and St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center appear more or less as themselves, we can begin by setting them aside.
Conspicuously absent from Wallace’s description of Enfield is what occupies the section of hill between St. Elizabeth’s and Brighton Marine: the fortress-like Brighton High School, whose students are within E.T.A.’s age range. Also unmentioned is what sits atop the hill, commanding the views into Boston and Cambridge ascribed to E.T.A.: a monastery whose name I still do not know, despite having walked its circumference, and figuring it must be its own street’s namesake, Monastery Road. Directly behind Brighton Marine’s Building 7 is Fidelis Way Park, obscured from view by the aforementioned dense woods, an idyllic respite from the downscale urbanity surrounding.
Although this unnamed hill in Brighton neither appeared to be shaved flat nor did I find anything about it especially cardioid-shaped, Fidelis Way Park does have at its center a large basketball court. Of course I am perfectly aware that basketball is not tennis, but if one squints, as I did, it is not difficult to pretend otherwise, and to imagine that one has found the Enfield Tennis Academy.