Has anyone ever read The Broom of the System, David Foster Wallace’s first novel? If not, I’d recommend that you get it and read it. Then get Infinite Jest and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and read them too. The last-named is a series of essays and worth reading now for the topical-in-1993 nostalgia, as well as for the great writing.
But back to The Broom of the System (Thank you, Word, I know that this is a sentence fragment. Now frag off.) The protagonist, Lenore Beadsman, is the daughter of a wealthy and insanely eccentric family; she herself is quite eccentric and is involved, mostly unwittingly, in a complicated plot involving a publishing company that doesn’t publish anything, a talking cockatiel, a genius brother, a network of Amherst and Mount Holyoke alumni, and an artificial desert in the middle of Ohio. I wouldn’t classify it as magical realism, or postmodern, or anything really. I just found it brilliant and imaginative and not like anything else I’d ever read when I first read it. On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I happened to notice it on my bookshelf, so I picked it up and reread it. Now it seems obvious to me that it was the work of a very young person (Wallace was 25 at the time it was published), but I was happy to find that I loved reading it the second time just as much as I loved it when I first read it in 1988. But this isn’t a book review (although The Broom of the System will be mentioned again in future posts, I think; there were ideas and characters that related to things I’m thinking or doing and I might or might not decide to elaborate.) Lenore Beadsman is a woman who is surrounded by crazy people, most of whom are related to her. She’s frequently stressed or flummoxed. When she needs to vent pent-up emotion, she yells “shit on a twig!” I’d love to be able to scream “shit on a twig” when I reach the end of my sometimes frayed nerves, but I couldn’t say it aloud without cracking up. I’m extremely easily amused.
Besides laugh out loud funny like “shit on a twig”, The Broom of the System, like Infinite Jest, is also filled with profound and completely original thought, and wise and compassionate love for human strengths and failings. I am extremely sad about David Foster Wallace’s death this weekend. I wish he could have found peace here. I hope he’s finding it where he is now.