David Foster Wallace – The Broom of The System – Book Review – Cole D. Lehman
You might know David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest or his commencement speech about the nature of reality, This is Water. You might know a lot more than that and it’s likely you know much more about him than I do. I haven’t read Infinite Jest yet, though remembering how much I loved The Broom of The System makes me want to…
GOVERNOR: We need a wasteland.
MR. LUNGBERG AND MR. OBSTAT: A wasteland?
GOVERNOR: Gentleman, we need a desert.
MR. LUNGBERG AND MR. OBSTAT: A desert?
GOVERNOR: Gentleman, a desert. A point of savage reference for the good people of Ohio. A place to fear and love. A blasted region. Something to remind us of what we hewed out of. A place without malls. An Other for Ohio’s Self. Cacti and scorpions and the sun beating down. Desolation. A place for people to wander alone. To reflect. Away from everything. Gentleman, a desert.
MR. OBSTAT: Just a super idea, Chief.
GOVERNOR: Thanks, Neil. Gentleman may I present Mr. Ed Roy Yancey, of Industrial Desert Design, Dallas. They did Kuwait.
This dialogue is what hooked me. Not because I love deserts, but because of the absurdity of the topic and the brilliance of the personalities in the conversation. The excerpt above is from a longer conversation about what eventually shows up as a well-loved, and uncharacteristically crowded Ohio landmark. Entertaining dialogue continued throughout the book and built an incredible world for the characters to live in. My favorite is probably the businessman who rants about his new goal to become infinitely large by consuming everything outside of him, while he’s decimating 9 steaks in a fine-dining restaurant. So good.
The core of the story revolves around a family who’s gotten wealthy off of the baby food industry. Their connections, acquaintances, loves, and neuroses drive the plot forward and inside-out. The Broom of The System pushes character development through dialogue and setting to a level I’ve never encountered before. Even when I didn’t know where the story was possibly going, I didn’t care. This seeming lack of direction was also one of the themes.
“But that stuff about context, though. Shouldn’t a story make the context that makes people do certain things and have the things be appropriate or not appropriate? A story shouldn’t just mention the exact context it’s supposed to try really to create, right?”
This book does exactly that. It creates a world out of itself and lets the characters develop as if they were living. It’s bizarre and gorgeous. Filled with people like Jay, a meddling psychologist who wears a gas mask when he smells “breakthroughs”.
JAY: Why is a story more up-front than life?
LENORE: It just seems more honest, somehow
JAY: Honest meaning closer to the truth?
LENORE: I smell trap.
JAY: I smell breakthrough. The truth is that there’s no difference between a life and a story? But a life pretends to be something more? But it really isn’t more?
LENORE: I would kill for a shower.
There’s no way to classify this as a light read, but it flowed nicely for me and was one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in recent history. If you enjoy brilliant dialogue, neurotic characters, and not having any idea what’s going to happen next, this is a great book for you.