Quick Review: The Broom of the System

This is a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy reading. The first novel by the late David Foster Wallace, it was born from a comment by a former girlfriend, who said that “she would rather be a character in a piece of fiction than a real person”. In Broom, Wallace explores the difference between the two through Lenore Beadsman, a young woman who is unsure of whether she is real or not. According to whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry, “the controlling idea surrounding all of these crises are the use of words and symbols to define a person.”

At first glance, definitely an interesting concept about identity that seems like it would be steeped in philosophical jargon. But the reason Broom was a challenging book was not due so much to difficult words, but rather to the uniqueness of its writer. Although any attempts to describe Wallace in a sentence can never give him justice, to put it simply, DFW was a genius whose mind never let him stop thinking, whose brilliant analytical tendencies eventually led him to take his own life. The threads and tangents he follows are manifested in long, verbose sentences, with many phrases wrapped around each other, wound and twisted to the extent that the reader can lose the thread before reaching even the end of one of these thoughts. Wallace himself once noted that Broom feels like it had been written “by a very smart fourteen year old,” and that is probably the most succinct yet accurate description that anyone can give it.

In summary, whilst I would recommend reading some of DFW’s essays and speeches for a uniquely intelligent, if verbose, take on a number of existential questions, his novels are definitely not for the faint hearted. If you decide to pick one up, I wish you good luck and more. You’re definitely going to need every ounce of perseverance that you can master.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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