August 9th, 2012


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

Post-modernist meta-fiction = Wallace's first wank.

The Broom of the System

Viking Press, 1987, 467 pages

At the center of The Broom of the System is the bewitching (and also bewildered) heroine, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman. The year is 1990 and the place is a slightly altered Cleveland, Ohio, which sits on the edge of a suburban wasteland-the Great Ohio Desert. Lenore works as a switchboard attendant at a publishing firm, and in addition to her mind-numbing job, she has a few other problems. Her great-grandmother, a one-time student of Wittgenstein, has disappeared with twenty-five other inmates of the Shaker Heights Nursing Home. Her beau (and boss), editor-in-chief Rick Vigorous, is insanely jealous. And her cockatiel, Vlad the Impaler, has suddenly started spouting a mixture of psychobabble, Auden, and the King James Bible, which may propel him to stardom on a Christian fundamentalist television program.

Fiercely intelligent and entertaining, this debut novel from one of the most innovative writers of our generation explores the paradoxes of language, storytelling, and reality.

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Verdict: David Foster Wallace's debut novel is ambitious, clever, kind of pretentious, and full of characters in search of a plot. Someone who's spent a lot of time in graduate school talking about semiotics will probably love this book, as will fans of Kurt Vonnegut and John Kennedy Toole. If post-modernist meta-fiction does not appeal to you, run away.

My complete list of book reviews.