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That novel with the still-mysterious title


I got David Foster Wallace’s first novel The Broom of the System for myself as a (very late) Christmas present with monies from the g-parents along with 2666 (which we are now reading over at Annular Summer). Unlike IJ I’ve been breezing through this thing. It actually feels really weird to be breezing through it, but it should be noted that 1) the font is a manageable size 2) I’ve only had to look up like 3 words (educe= elicit, nonce= at this particular moment, “for the nonce,” well, there’s two off the cuff) 3) length-wise, it’s 600 pages shorter than IJ, so not the size of a brick¹. I even took it to the beach today and sat on a skim board and read in the sun while wearing my brother’s friend’s aviators that kept sliding down my nose because of the sunscreen.

Anyway, at this point I’m not sure what to think of this book. It’s definitely not IJ (well duh) but there are some inevitable problems/tendencies I face as a reader who admittedly fawns over DFW after reading what all the book covers call his “sprawling magnum opus” or algo como si. It’s not completely fair to be overly harsh to his freshman work, which a good DFW fan friend of mine told me he (DFW) was actually a little embarrassed by it.

The intermittent and somewhat distracting nudge-and-knowing-glances about Amherst might be an embarrassment factor (or perhaps it’s simply alma mater looooove). Or the (to me) numerous distracting passages about sex (something that occurs in IJ but Rick Vigorous’s description of kissing Lenore was possibly more disturbing than the old-man-male-prostitute-torn-condom-AIDS scene in IJ¹¼).

I do love the Wallacenian scenes that are present in this book–stories sprinkled throughout where people are in these hitherto unimagined double-binds trying to get help and get out. I wonder if Wallace made a pastime of sitting around and thinking up these terrible conditions for people to be in–oh wait, that probably makes him a storyteller. Yes.

I’m more than 3/4 of the way through the book and the main plot point/question to be answered/tension is still unresolved/unanswered/maintained, but there have been clues so I’m hopeful for an ending with some resolution.

The thing that’s getting me is the title. There’s been discussion about brooms (Mr. S, Lenore’s dad, talking about his mother giving him the broom talk) and about systems (of signifier and referent, of messed up telephone systems, etc), but there’s no satisfying “This is what it means” feeling yet. Not that there always is when reading DFW’s fiction, as I recall, but I’m hopeful.

Maybe sometime I’ll do a “this comes up in IJ also” type post; for now I’ll just finish the novel and let it stand on its own. And I gotta say, I loved the story about the man who was stricken with the disorder of falling madly in love with every attractive woman he meets.

¹ Which reminds me of the JOI film “The 20th Century as Seen through a Brick.” How I wish I could have seen the art installation that happened this past winter in which some of these films were brought into conception.
¹¼ I mean, I know Rick’s supposed to be over-the-top but sometimes I feel suffocated by him, which is probably the point. He’s like a precursor to C.T. in some ways, but definitely less neurotic in his politeness.
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