So it begins.
I started reading IJ on Sunday, and the only thing I can say about the first 15 pages is that this would never make it out of a workshop in its present state. The number of people in the room and who is associated with whom is very confusing. When they’ve got Hal in the bathroom and the dialogue is flying, it’s not always clear who is talking. And the flashbacks to when Hal was a kid eating that mold and when he was in the emergency room chatting with the Quebecker with the magical boob, these seem like one too many flashbacks to explain Hal’s current condition? (Also, why mention the ER visit if you’re not going to say why he was there?)
Of course, I’m being a bit facetious here. This is a novel, and it’s ridiculous to expect the first 15 pages to explain everything. The two flashbacks: we never return to the ER visit, although it’s heavily inferred later in the novel as the result of Hal’s high school drug use; and the mold-eating is revealed to be the cause of a completely different condition for Hal not having anything to do with this current, uh, reaction. As for the first two criticism–the people in room and the dialogue–well, the story begins from Hal’s POV, and, as is made clear pretty quickly, the dude’s brain-body connection is a bit fried right now. So our confusion is really just his confusion.
This really helps drive home the point a professor in my writing program once made: “some pieces are unworkshoppable.” This comment was made in the context of a discussion about Ulysses, but I think you’d agree that it could be applied to Infinite Jest as well.