This series has previously identified several fictional locations whose real-world counterparts differ in name only very slightly. In some cases, it’s a single letter (St. Columbkille) or placement of punctuation (Ryles Jazz Club) but none differ quite so slightly as the subject of today’s entry, which is distinguished only by the presence of a single empty space.
This is Jamaica Way, or the Jamaicaway—so fine, there’s a definite article in the mix as well—in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. It is a street with some history, featuring many large homes more than a century old, facing Jamaica Pond. Like Commonwealth Avenue, it was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, and early and influential landscape architect who also helped create New York City’s Central Park. And though it’s Comm. Avenue which is described as a “sine wave,” this four-lane parkway between the Arborway to the south and the Riverway to the north is probably more deserving of the metaphor. Not to mention, it really tests the limit of the number of -way suffixed words permissible in one sentence.
The peculiarity of its name and my minor quibble over its comparative description serve to remind the reader—at least, this reader—how different the reference tools available to writers were not so long ago. MapQuest launched the same year Infinite Jest was published, and Wikipedia’s humble beginnings were still five years off. With these services available to him, would DFW have made the same orthographic choice, or switched descriptions? Perhaps not; he was never much of an email user, for example, but it’s interesting to think about.
The Jamaicaway’s appearance in the novel is more interesting still, the basis of a morbid joke that I completely missed on my two full readings, and only finally picked up on while researching this project. It involves characters previously unmentioned in this series, although not much setup is needed to get the point across. First, know that Marlon and Kevin Bain are brothers, the former being Orin Incandenza’s doubles partner at E.T.A. Each makes a solitary, memorable appearance, in which neither fails to mention how their parents died.
After my own parents were horribly killed on the Jamaica Way commuter road one morning in the freak crash of a radio traffic-report helicopter, I became a sort of hanger-on at the Incandenza house out in Weston.
Then Kevin says but then by the time he was eight they were gone altogether, dead, smooshed by a dysfunctionally falling radio traffic helicopter on the Jamaica Way on the way to Couples Counselling.
The setup—or, as I experienced it, the punchline—is found (not easily) hundreds of pages away:
The E.T.A. Headmaster’s receptionist and administrative assistant is known to the players as Lateral Alice Moore. In her youth Lateral Alice Moore had been a helicopter pilot and airborne traffic reporter for a major Boston radio station until a tragic collision with another station’s airborne traffic-report helicopter — plus then the cataclysmic fall to the rush hour’s Jamaica Way six-laner below — had left her with chronic oxygen debt and a neurological condition whereby she was able to move only from side to side. So hence the sobriquet Lateral Alice Moore.
As far as I can tell, the connection is never made by the characters. Fair enough: I’m willing to bet the connection is rarely made even by readers.