84 Following

"So it goes."

Ella Mc's book blog. Brand new 2018 - Only books read after 1st January 2018

Currently reading

The Witches of Eastwick
John Updike
Progress: 100/307 pages

The Broom of the System - David Foster Wallace

The Broom of the System - David Foster Wallace, Duke Riley

Years ago (elsewhere) I gave this five stars. When I reread it this week, I downgraded it to four and just now changed it back halfway. Here's why: 

A quote from DT Max's biography puts this pretty well. The publisher on the reason they took it:

Broom was different, that it used postmodernism in new ways. He remembers reading the manuscript and thinking he was reading something truly new, “a portent for the future of American fiction,” as he remembered it: “It wasn’t just a style but a feeling he was expressing, one of playful exuberance…tinged with a self-conscious self-consciousness.”

It's hard to remember how new this felt in its day, before I had any clue who the author was and before I'd read anything else he'd written. When compared to his later novels, The Broom of the System is clearly earlier work, but compared to books I've read, both recently and back when this was published, by authors who aren't David Foster Wallace, it's a delight and it really doesn't feel like a first novel or a thesis or a get out of school novel. We do it a disservice by comparing it to IJ or even The Pale King (though The Pale King reads, at least the parts I've read thus far, much more like this novel than Infinite Jest. I need to start the Pale King again and finish it this time because it was really good, until I put it down and didn't pick it back up - for no reason at all.) Back to Broom: Hilarious wordplay throughout, a decent mysterious plot, no silliness just for silliness' sake (though a lot of silliness for other reasons), no dumb gimmicks beyond perhaps the delightful absurdity of names of pretty much every character including the bird. The family is insane in the way only a fictional family can be, but it's just one degree away from real families, the characters are amazing. This is an excellent novel that stands up to any comparison except, perhaps, DFW's essays and Infinite Jest.


It takes reality and sort of blows it up - taking it a step further, making it funny because it's so absurd. It's clearly well-planned and I could spend hours discussing the technicality of the book, but I don't want to and nobody wants to read that anyway. If they do, they should read the book ;)

I know David Foster Wallace was not happy with it later on - you can find mention of his annoyance at being attached to it in any number of interviews, letters, conversations, etc. Apparently, it felt very juvenile to him. It seemed like it was "trying too hard" or a "very smart 14 year old." Perhaps though, it's just buoyant and he remembered that it was harder to write than we get to know on reading it. When we're depressed, it's easy to see absurdist anything as juvenile or trying too hard. I know wonderful musicians who can't listen to their own recordings because they hear only the problems and not the miracles. So when I read The Broom of the System this time, I actively looked for "first book problems" and "workshop writing" and all the other things that make first novels often problematic. (I didn't find workshop writing because he wrote this in undergrad!) I ended up with a list of notes a couple pages long disproving that theory. I think Mr. Wallace was being hard on himself. This is an excellent book, and when I compare it to the books I've read, it gets almost five stars from me even in 2018, and a TON of laugh aloud moments too.