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The Broom of the System [Paperback]

David Foster Wallace
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1 1993
An original and exciting debut, set in 1990 Cleveland, where a bewitching heroine who works for a screwed-up publishing firm is caught up with her not-so-hot lover/boss, her grandmother--who has just run away from her nursing home--and her pet cockatiel, whose verbal banter makes him a target for religious fundamentalists.

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From Library Journal

The year is 1990, and the place Cleveland. Lenore Beadsman works as a telephone operator for Frequent and Vigorous Publishers. Her roommate's name is Candy Mandible, their parrot is Vlad the Impaler, there is a Judith Prietht, and businesses have names like Hunt and Peck. Lenore's great-grandmother and several cronies disappear from their nursing home, and the search for them leads across the Great Ohio Desert (G.O.D.). The novel is largely dialogue, much of it quite funny and perceptive. Obviously not aimed at the Danielle Steel or Robert Ludlum crowds, Wallace's book will appeal to people his age (mid-20s) and to older readers who enjoy trying the unfamiliar. Libraries serving such patrons should consider it. Mary K. Prokop, CEL Regional Lib., Savannah, Ga.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'Daring...hilarious...enigmatic...wonderfully odd... a zany picaresque adventure of contemporary America run amok' NEW YORK TIMES 'Dazzling...exhilarating...bizarre...sweepingly successful...engaging and haunting... a remarkable book with lots of prestidigitation in it... Wallace's talent is consistently impressive' SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. Read the first page
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like nourishing brain candy April 17 2009
By J. Tobin Garrett TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
First let me preface by saying that, no, I have not read Infinite Jest. I wanted to read his two novels in the order that they were written, hence Broom of the System came first. So I'm not going to spend time here comparing the merits of the two novels, since I can't.

Broom of the System is a strange, off-beat, inventive, hilarious and philosophical novel. DFW has a love for incorporating many view points and different styles of writing; in this novel alone we get transcripts, first person diary entries, stories within stories, third person and even a news release at one part. But that's not to say that the novel doesn't have a cohesive feel.

The plot is too complex to really go into totally, but it centres around the disappearance of Lenore Beadsman's grandmother, also named Lenore. Lenore, a philosophy major, has an overbearing and super jealous boyfriend, who also happens to be her boss at a publishing house in which she works as a switchboard director. She has a roommate named Candy Mandible, a wide ranging and bizarre family (of whom, her brother, LaVache with his drug habits and prosthetic leg, is the best), and a bird named Vlad the Impaler.

The style is kind of like a cross between Don DeLillo's dialogue and Kurt Vonnegut's social satire. But really there is nothing quite like reading David Foster Wallace. For those that are frightened of David Foster Wallace for whatever reason, don't be. His short story writing, especially in Oblivion, can be inaccessible and frustrating, but luckily Broom of the System doesn't fall into either of those categories.

This is the kind of novel that you can analyze, if you wish, and get into the philosophy, or you can just read it because it's hilarious. Win win, really.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By John Kwok TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In his all too brief career as a writer, David Foster Wallace was recognized quickly as the finest writer of our generation. A most astute assessment made by the likes of exceptional peers such as Rick Moody and David Lipsky; the latter, the author of a recent best-selling travel memoir, "Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself", recounting a five day road trip spent with Wallace. That Wallace was destined for literary greatness is clearly demonstrated in this novel, "The Broom of the System", written as an honors thesis at his undergraduate alma mater, Amherst College. It is an exceptional, fascinating, often compelling work of fiction that ranks with my own favorite outstanding modern literary debuts; "Neuromancer" (William Gibson), "Fool on the Hill" (Matt Ruff), and "Gun, With Occasional Music" (Jonathan Lethem). However, with the notable exception of Gibson, no other writer can lay claim to influencing an entire generation of his peers, like, for example, Rick Moody, whose most recent novels, "The Diviners" and "The Four Fingers of Death", could be seen as partial homages to Wallace's exceptional literary craft.

Wallace's greatest strength as a writer was his uncanny ear for great dialogue, which is one of the most admirable traits in "The Broom of the System". Another was his ability to create great characters like his heroine Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman. While the book is fundamentally a "Perils of Pauline" saga recounting the romantic - and otherwise - misadventures of Lenore, there are ample witty asides to everything from boardroom politics to Wittgenstein. I read this novel a few months ago, but I still can't get it out of my head, so compelling is Wallace's portrayal of Lenore and her friends and colleagues.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  97 reviews
120 of 127 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deliriously inventive, more accessible than "Infinite Jest" May 21 2000
By Tung Yin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When I was in my early twenties, I read a lot of works by emerging young writers like Jay McInerney, Bret Ellis, and others. Looking back on it now, it seems unfair to put David Foster Wallace in the same category as those writers, as he is far more talented and imaginative.
"The Broom of the System" is Wallace's debut, and like most first-borns, it received the most love and attention. It's more accessible than "Infinite Jest" and can be read more easily in smaller chunks without having to figure out, for example, when the events being narrated actually took place.
There isn't much of a plot in "Broom," which is remarkable when one considers that the novel runs over 500 pages. Loosely speaking, it's about the travails of Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, a 24 year old woman who works as a telephone switch operator for a magazine edited by her lover, Rick Vigorous, who is anything but. Her grandmother (also named Lenore) has disappeared from her nursing home, and Lenore is the only one who seems worried. But that's only a fraction of what the book is about.
It's full of stories within stories, some the sad submissions that Vigorous derides (but that are far better than his limp and self-indulgent attempts at writing), others little asides that seem irrelevant but aren't. Mostly, "Broom" is an exploration of language and ideas -- some chapters involve highly detailed descriptions of, for example, the Goldberg-like trail of a pebble; other chapters are entirely dialogue, with no description of who is speaking (but which is clear from context).
In other words, this is not a novel about sex and drugs (although there are sex and drugs), and it's not a shallow, Gen-Ex picture of excess. The nearest comparison I can think of, in a loose way, is Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon."
85 of 94 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I Read "Infinite Jest", Should I Read This Too? March 12 2003
By William McNeill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Well, did you like "Infinite Jest"? If so, then yes. "Broom of the System" may not be more of the same, but it's at least less of the same: shorter and less convoluted but with a similar meandering structure and Douglas-Adams-as-grad-student sensibility. "The Broom of the System" is a solid piece of highbrow comedy that stands on its own, though it's hard for "Infinite Jest" fans not to approach it as a warmup. Here's where DFW takes his first crack at many of the themes that wind up in Infinite Book: the (I guess unsurprising) obsession with prodigies, particularly adolescent males who do well in school, the fearless embrace of pretension, and a weakness for glib patter that nicely sets off the occasional jab of sincerity that manages to peek through. The prose is loopy, though more conventionally so. DFW had not yet worked out the collision of stoner-speak and dissertationese that gave "Infinite Jest" its distinctive voice, but the seeds are there. Even plotwise there are echoes: like "Infinite Jest", "Broom of the System" ends in medias res, and it's interesting to see version 1.0 of this neat trick. BotS may not be a re-reader, but it's definitely a reader, and an enjoyable one, assuming you like this sort of thing.
And if you don't? Specifically, what if you disliked "Infinite Jest"? Then the question becomes: how much did you dislike "Infinite Jest"? Say you found it annoying from the word go, think DFW is an insufferable smartypants, and hurled (or more like shotputted) the book across the room soon after the chapter that begins "Where was the woman who said she'd come. She said she would come" and continues in that vein for a good ten pages? Well, obviously you're going to hate "Broom of the System" too. If you're more of a middling Wallace non-fan, however, someone who finds him pretty good but too self-indulgent, made it about halfway through IJ, and can chuckle good naturedly at the Onion headline "Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter At Page 20", then BotS might be for you. It's DFW before he had developed either the courage or the inclination to go completely nuts. And there's not a footnote in sight.
52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely piece of Meta-David Sept. 8 2003
By David Beavers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Curious and wonderful to see what someone as (obviously insane?) as DFW did back when he was still in a grad program for creative writing -- back when he was just a cunning tyke of 26, before (presumably) the MacArthur Fellowship had given him an oversized novelty cheque just for being really really smart --- before he started writing 1100 page behemoths and incalculably inscrutable short stories. Broom Of The System is, in a way, as straightforward a narrative as DFW ever has written (although there are plenty of POV shifts and a huge, steaming plate of metafictional story-on-story action)... It is a jumping off point, certainly, and you can see some of his fabulous textual obsessions of later books (fathers and dysfunctional families and drugs and addictions) in their earlier forms, here. DFW is to fiction what the band Rush was to music: he is a prog-rock artist, switching POVs and the like with a merciless disregard for tradition, and it's probably best to view his work-- esp. something like Infinite Jest -- as experiments, and not "stories." But with Broom of the System you get a little bit of both -- the first chapter in particular, I think, is one of the most flat-out charming bits of DFW's that I've read.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fast, cheap, and out of control Jan. 11 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Funny, clever as hell, and a little bit precious, "The Broom of the System" is an examination of our postmodern culture from the inside out. Wallace looks at the cultural artifacts of our world, explodes them, and reassembles the pieces to create a kind of narrative arc from the chaotic blizzard of information - it's like watching cable TV, only everything means something, and adds up to some larger purpose. And if Wallace weren't such a teriffic writer, the thing wouldn't hold together; he is, though, and it does, and while there's a lot of intellectual depth to the work, it's also a ton of fun to read, funny and affecting, and Wallace's prose is some kind of inspiration, giving us, as someone said somewhere, THE literary voice of this decade (a feat all the more impressive given that the book came out in '87). It's not a flawless book: Wallce tends to go overboard and get a little self-congratulatory, and the thing isn't quite as focused as his later "Infinite Jest" (an even better novel, though more difficult), but it's more than made up for by the sheer innovation of the book. It may even be a metafictive dissection of the state of metafiction - it's that good, and it bears out that level of thought.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you loved Infinite Jest, you'll like this book Dec 31 1998
By Jeffrey S. Bennion - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
..and if you didn't like IJ, you'll hate this one, though it is a shorter read. In Broom, we see the precursors of everything that's in IJ -- a wacky, fanciful alternate universe (Cleveland shaped like Jayne Mansfield, linguistic booster hormones in baby food, the G.O.D.), disjointed storylines told from multiple points of view, crackling and whip-smart dialog, absurd but still believeable characters (Rex Metalman who thinks his lawn is a WWI trench, Wang Dang Lang, the narcissist who thinks he's still in a rowdy frat, Wanda the imperious supervisor, and the inscrutable, machinating grandmother, whom we never really meet, Lenore Beadsman the first), outrageous plot occurrences (Vlad the Impaler, the irritable Cockatiel who becomes Ugolino the Significant, a Christian News Channel Anchor), and best of all (from my point of view) a whole bunch of frequently incoherent fun. This book was almost as much fun to read as IJ, and it has more narrative unity so I think it's a bit easier to follow, but at the same time I thought the ending was even more abrupt, and more difficult to figure out how things are intended to end up.
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