Book Review: The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace

Wait? What’s this? A book review? It’s been months since one of those appeared on BostonWriters. I promise it’s not because I haven’t been reading. I just haven’t had much time to write thoughtfully or even half-heartedly about the books I’ve been snuggling up to lately. But as it’s Thanksgiving, I thought a mini-book review might be just the ticket for today. Oh, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving!

The Broom of the SystemThe Broom of the System
by David Foster Wallace
Penguin Books, 2004

I came to this book a DFW newbie, not having read anything else by him (at least to my knowledge), despite having had him recommended to me by several people whose opinions on books I trust. I decided to begin with the Broom of the System because as far as I can tell, it was his first novel, and I enjoy reading books in the sequence they are written whenever I can to watch the author’s development as a writer.

I came away from this book feeling nearly as ambiguous about it as I have since learned DFW himself did. Maybe it was that he kept making disparaging comments about college students writing books in the novel, and I knew that he had written this as an English thesis. Maybe it was that the particular brand of wackiness employed in this book is fun for 300 pages but hard for me to enjoy for nearly 500. Maybe it was that the subplot of the missing great grandmother never really gelled or felt as central to the book as it seemed like it was meant to be. There was just so much other richness that when the great grandmother was finally found I hardly noticed it.

When brings me to the topic of all that other richness. A desert in the middle of Ohio, a suburb shaped like Jayne Mansfield, a skeleton of the founder of Cleveland with a sign planted in his eye socket, some really funny scenes with the therapist, a talking bird, and a Christian evangelist (although not necessarily all at once), descriptions of people so full of vivid if seemingly random details that I felt I would know them if I saw them on the street, and I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful world of Lenore’s family. There’s some very good stuff in here and it kept me reading rather steadily (as my husband pointed out).

And at the end of it, I don’t wish I had those hours back as I do with some novels, but I also don’t find myself racing to pick up my copy of Infinite Jest either. I would like to read more from this DFW fellow, but I think I’ll pick up some of his essays next.

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