The Broom of the System
By David Foster Wallace
Review by Ben N (English Language and Literature)
I read this when I was 16, intrigued by Foster Wallace’s reputation as an experimental novelist but scared off reading his most famous work, the colossal Infinite Jest. The Broom of the System follows the exceptionally named Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman as she experiences several bizarre adventures in a chaotic, faintly surreal version of America. The story is told in several idiosyncratic and fascinating ways, jumping in time and space and between different forms of prose. This makes the first couple of chapters a little bit confusing, but a clear narrative soon emerges, one which is funny and sad and human in all kinds of moving and thoughtful ways.
The great thing about Foster Wallace is that he marries an intensely intellectual viewpoint to one that is overwhelmingly creative and carefree; this is one of those brilliant books which is very easy to read but is also very deep and thoughtful. Even though there are some very subtle philosophical issues being discussed here, you don’t notice it: it is complex without being complicated. All the while, Foster Wallace’s inventive and relaxed prose style is as endlessly entertaining, amusing and heartfelt as much as it is experimental.
I would encourage anyone who has an interest in modern fiction to read this book. It’s a great gateway to other, more difficult novels like Foster’s Infinite Jest, which is amazing, and those by Pynchon, DeLillo, Gass, which are all worthwhile in their own right, but also initially intimidating. This isn’t the best novel ever written, but it is remarkably enjoyable to read, and by gently involving lots of experimental techniques it is a perfect introduction to styles of contemporary prose written by someone of prodigious intellect and heart. Anyone interested in good writing with an offbeat character should give this a look.
The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace