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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Broom of the System: A Novel

Nothing screams, "I've had a few days off!" like picking up David Foster Wallace. This is his first novel, The Broom of the System.

1990. Cleveland. Lenore Beadsman is working at the switchboard of Frequent and Vigorous publishing company. Her beloved great-grandmother has just disappeared, with two dozen others, from her nursing home; chances are good she led the break-out. Lenore is dating the ever-neurotic Rick Vigorous of the previously mentioned publishing company. Her cockatiel, Vlad the Impaler, has suddenly started repeating her roommate's breakup speech rehearsal which is not ladylike to say the least. Nothing in her world is going her way, and dealing with this triptych of crises may very well be the end of her.

I do enjoy some DFW, although if you have yet to read his work, I would suggest being gentle on yourself for your first time. He is a lot to take in; just look at Infinite Jest if you doubt me. I could only read 30 pages or so at a time because reading DFW is like drinking an oatmeal stout--it is incredibly delicious and the finest of brews, but it is heavy and dense and requires you to savor it.

However, taking the time to savor it allows you to revel in the genius that this man embodies. He is the pinnacle of intelligent absurdism in my eyes, which is the only kind of absurdism with which I can put up. The man can craft a sentence that is an entire paragraph, and by the time you are finished with it you feel like you have been knocked cold. He has this way of making your brain sore because he has worked the muscle so deeply. I prefer this kind of workout to the physical one.

So back to the story. I adored Lenore. She holds her exasperation well, and she is the kind of girl who takes herself seriously yet can't seem to figure out why no one else takes their life seriously. She takes the world in and acknowledges, if only to herself, that everything is just a little bit nuts. The story in itself is quite nuts, and DFW creates such insane characters that I simply love. The nursing home director, Mr. Bloemker, is a bumbling oaf who can't quite explain why so many of those in his care are missing, yet he knows enough to tell Lenore that her ninety-something great-grandmother probably led the charge. The sub-story about Lenore's father, Stonecipher, the baby food magnate, and his long-time battle with rival Gerber, is funny and absurd and sincerely ridiculous.

If you have yet to give DFW a run, try out Consider the Lobster first for a bunch of essays, then pick up this book. If you have a sharp sense of humor, you will sink your tentacles into this one.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right:

Also, give Consider the Lobster a chance:

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