Broom of the System – 4/5 Stars
This is David Foster Wallace’s first novel, the original draft of which was his thesis. The novel itself is sophomoric, for a first novel (if that’s possible) and both precocious and impressive. At times, it really sings, and at other times it’s too goofy for words and too clever by half. It’s not ever boring, and it’s not ever dumb, but at times it’s very very very young feeling. It’s so clear that in this novel David Foster Wallace sets him up on purpose or unwittingly to a scion of internalization to Thomas Pynchon’s scion of externalization.
The novel is told in several different ways. There’s a third person omniscient narrator who takes on several if not most scenes. In the opening chapter, we meet many of the principles of the novel on the night of a party at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. A couple of suitemates are talking and watching movies, along with the 15 year old sister of one of them. Two Amherst boys barge their way in (the scene is menacing at times, but never violent) and concoct a story about paying respects to Melinda, who claims to have no idea who they are, but the scene soon explains that the two boys are pledging a fraternity and need several signatures on their asses and don’t intend to leave until they get them. This scene unfolds with a few of the girls obliging only to get rid of the boys, while one of the boys and Melinda clearly have hit it off.
We jump ahead 9 years to 1990 (the future!) and we get a second way the novel is told, through dialog between Lenore (the previously 15 year old) and her boss and boyfriend Rick Vigorous, who runs a literary magazine, as he tells her about various stories from the slush pile.
The plot, so much as there is one, revolve around Lenore’s great-grandmother Lenore going missing from the retirement home owned by her father’s company (ostensibly a baby-food company), and looking for her. The plot also involves in various way a 1000 pound man trying to slowly eat the entire universe, a giant desert of black sand being constructed in rural Ohio, a parrot who went from never talking to saying full sentences, possibly from taking LSD, college drinkers playing “Hi Bob” a near deadly drinking game revolved around The Bob Newhart Show, and a phoneline system in where all calls are routed randomly.