The Broom of the System: A Novel

( 27 )

Overview

Published when Wallace was just twenty-four years old, The Broom of the System stunned critics and marked the emergence of an extraordinary new talent. At the center of this outlandishly funny, fiercely intelligent novel is the bewitching heroine, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman. The year is 1990 and the place is a slightly altered Cleveland, Ohio. Lenore’s great-grandmother has disappeared with twenty-five other inmates of the Shaker Heights Nursing Home. Her beau, and boss, Rick Vigorous, is insanely jealous, and ...

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Overview

Published when Wallace was just twenty-four years old, The Broom of the System stunned critics and marked the emergence of an extraordinary new talent. At the center of this outlandishly funny, fiercely intelligent novel is the bewitching heroine, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman. The year is 1990 and the place is a slightly altered Cleveland, Ohio. Lenore’s great-grandmother has disappeared with twenty-five other inmates of the Shaker Heights Nursing Home. Her beau, and boss, Rick Vigorous, is insanely jealous, and her cockatiel, Vlad the Impaler, has suddenly started spouting a mixture of psycho-babble, Auden, and the King James Bible. Ingenious and entertaining, this debut from one of the most innovative writers of his generation brilliantly explores the paradoxes of language, storytelling, and reality.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher

"Daring, hilarious... a zany picaresque adventure of contemporary America run amok." —The New York Times

"Wonderful... a cathartic experience with lots of laughs and lots of deeper meanings." —The Washington Post Book World

From the Publisher
"Daring, hilarious... a zany picaresque adventure of contemporary America run amok." —The New York Times

"Wonderful... a cathartic experience with lots of laughs and lots of deeper meanings." —The Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142002421
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 5/25/2004
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 226,093
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 7.88 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace is the award-winning author of several short story and essay collections as well as two novels. Most recently, he is the author of the biography Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity.

Biography

Born in Ithaca, NY, and raised in Champaign, IL, David Foster Wallace grew up athletically gifted and exceptionally bright, with an avid interest in tennis, literature, philosophy, and math. He attended Amherst and graduated in 1985 with a double major in English and Philosophy. His philosophy thesis (on modal logic) won the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize. His English thesis would become his first novel, The Broom of the System. Published in 1987 during his second year of grad school at the University of Arizona, the book sold well, garnering national attention and critical praise in equal measure. Two years later, a book of short stories, Girl with Curious Hair, was published to admiring reviews.

In the early 1990s, Wallace's short fiction began to appear regularly in publications like Playboy, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker, along with excerpts from his second novel, a complex, enormously ambitious work published in 1996 as Infinite Jest. Surpassing 1,000 pages in length, the novel was hailed as a masterpiece ("[A]n entertainment so irresistibly pleasurable it renders the viewer catatonic," raved Newsweek. "[R]esourceful, hilarious, intelligent, and unique," pronounced Atlantic Monthly), and Wallace was crowned on the spot the new heavyweight champion of literary fiction.

Hyperbole aside, Infinite Jest, with its linguistic acrobatics (challenging complex clauses, coined words, etc.) and sly, self-referential footnotes, proved to be the template for a new literary style. Subversive, hip, and teeming with postmodernist irony, the book attracted a rabid cult following and exerted an influence on up-and-coming young writers that is still felt today. The scope of Wallace's achievement can be measured by the fact that one year after the publication of Infinite Jest, he was awarded the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant."

Nearly as famous for his nonfiction as for his novels and stories, Wallace produced mind-boggling essays on assignment for magazines like Harper's. In contrast to his sad, dark, disturbing fiction, these essays -- subsequently collected into such bestselling anthologies as A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (1997), Everything and More (2003), and Consider the Lobster (2007) -- were ridiculously exuberant, fairly bursting with humor, energy, and good cheer. Yet Wallace himself suffered from clinical depression most of his adult life. He was treated successfully with anti-depressants, until side effects from the drugs began to interfere with his productivity. At his doctor's suggestion, he stopped taking the medication.The depression returned, and he did not respond to any further treatment. In September of 2008, at the age of 46, he committed suicide.

Wallace's influence on contemporary literature cannot be overstated. Descended from post-war superstars like Thomas Pynchon and Don De Lillo, his style is clearly visible in the work of postmodernists like Jonathan Safran Foer and Dave Eggers. His untimely death was mourned by critics, writers, and millions of adoring fans. As author David Lipsky stated in a tribute that aired on NPR in September, 2008: "To read David Foster Wallace was to feel your eyelids pulled open."

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    1. Date of Birth:
      February 21, 1962
    2. Place of Birth:
      Ithaca, NY
    1. Date of Death:
      September 12, 2008
    2. Place of Death:
      Claremont, CA
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English & Philosophy, Amherst College, 1985;MFA, University of Arizona, 1987

Read an Excerpt

One

1981

Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. They're long and thin and splay toed, with buttons of yellow callus on the little toes and a thick stair-step of it on the back of the heel, and a few long black hairs are curling out of the skin at the tops of the feet, and the red nail polish is cracking and peeling in curls and candy-striped with decay. Lenore only notices because Mindy's bent over in the chair by the fridge picking at some of the polish on her toes; her bathrobe's opening a little, so there's some cleavage visible and everything, a lot more than Lenore's got, and the thick white towel wrapped around Mindy's wet washed shampooed head is coming undone and a wisp of dark shiny hair has slithered out of a crack in the folds and curled down all demurely past the side of Mindy's face and under her chin. It smells like Flex shampoo in the room, and also pot, since Clarice and Sue Shaw are smoking a big thick j-bird Lenore got from Ed Creamer back at Shaker School and brought up with some other stuff for Clarice, here at school.

What's going on is that Lenore Beadsman, who's fifteen, has just come all the way from home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, right near Cleveland, to visit her big sister, Clarice Beadsman, who's a fresh man at this women's college, called Mount Holyoke; and Lenore's staying with her sleeping bag in this room on the second floor of Rumpus Hall that Clarice shares with her roommates, Mindy Metal man and Sue Shaw. Lenore's also come to sort of check out this college, a little bit. This is because even though she's just fifteen she's supposedly quite intelligent and thus acceleratedand already a junior at Shaker School and thus thinking about college, application-wise, for next year. So she's visiting. Right now it's a Friday night in March.

Sue Shaw, who's not nearly as pretty as Mindy or Clarice, is bringing the joint over here to Mindy and Lenore, and Mindy takes it and lets her toe alone for a second and sucks the bird really hard, so it glows bright and a seed snaps loudly and bits of paper ash go flying and floating, which Clarice and Sue find super funny and start laughing at really hard, whooping and clutching at each other, and Mindy breathes it in really deep and holds it in and passes the bird to Lenore, but Lenore says no thank you.

"No thank you," says Lenore.

"Go ahead, you brought it, why not . . . ," croaks Mindy Metal man, talking the way people talk without breathing, holding on to the smoke.

"I know, but it's track season at school and I'm on the team and I don't smoke during the season, I can't, it kills me," Lenore says.

So Mindy shrugs and finally lets out a big breath of pale used-up smoke and coughs a deep little cough and gets up with the bird and takes it over across the room to Clarice and Sue Shaw, who are by a big wooden stereo speaker listening to this song, again, by Cat Stevens, for like the tenth time tonight. Mindy's robe's more or less open, now, and Lenore can see some pretty amazing stuff, but Mindy just walks across the room. Lenore can at this point divide all the girls she's known neatly into girls who think deep down they're pretty and girls who deep down think they're really not. Girls who think they're pretty don't care much about their bathrobes being undone and are good at makeup and like to walk when people are watching, and they act different when there are boys around; and girls like Lenore, who don't think they're too pretty, tend not to wear makeup, and run track, and wear black Converse sneakers, and keep their bathrobes pretty well fastened at all times. Mindy sure is pretty, though, except for her feet.

The Cat Stevens song is over again, and the needle goes up by itself, and obviously none of these three feel like moving all the way to start it again, so they're just sitting back in their hard wood desk chairs, Mindy in her faded pink terry robe with one shiny smooth leg all bare and sticking out; Clarice in her Desert boots and her dark blue jeans that Lenore calls her shoe-horn jeans, and that white western shirt she'd wore at the state fair the time she'd had her purse stolen, and her blond hair flooding all over the shirt, and her eyes very blue right now; Sue Shaw with her red hair and a green sweater and green tartan skirt and fat white legs with a bright red pimple just over one knee, legs crossed with one foot jiggling one of those boat shoes, with the sick white soles--Lenore dislikes that kind of shoe a lot.Clarice after a quiet bit lets out a long sigh and says, in whispers, "Cat . . . is . . . God," giggling a little at the end. The other two giggle too.

"God? How can Cat be God? Cat exists." Mindy's eyes are all red.

"That's offensive and completely blasphemous," says Sue Shaw, eyes wide and puffed and indignant.

"Blasphemous?" Clarice dies, looks at Lenore. "Blasphemous," she says. Her eyes aren't all that bad, really, just unusually cheerful, as if she's got a joke she's not telling.

"Blissphemous," says Mindy.
"Blossphemous. "
"Blousephemous. "
"Bluesphemous. "
"Boisterous. "
"Boisteronahalfshell. "
"Bucephalus. "
"Bamey Rubble."
"Baba Yaga."
"Bolshevik. "
"Blaphemous!"

They're dying, doubled over, and Lenore's laughing that weird sympathetic laugh you laugh when everybody else is laughing so hard they make you laugh too. The noise of the big party downstairs is coming through the floor and vibrating in Lenore's black sneakers and the arms of the chair. Now Mindy slides out of her desk chair all limp and shlomps down on Lenore's sleeping bag on the floor next to Clarice's pretend-Persian ruglet from Mooradian's in Cleveland, and Mindy modestly covers her crotch with a comer of her robe, but Lenore still can't help but see the way her breasts swell up into the worn pink towel cloth of the robe, all full and stuff, even lying down on her back, there, on the floor. Lenore unconsciously looks down a little at her own chest, under her flannel shirt.

"Hunger," Sue Shaw says after a minute. "Massive, immense, uncontrollable, consuming, uncontrollable, hunger."

"This is so," says Mindy.

"We will wait"--Clarice looks at her watch on the underside of her wrist--"one, that is one hour, before eating anything what soentirelyever."

"No we can't possibly possibly do that."

"But do it we shall. As per room discussions of not one week ago, when we explicitly agreed that we shall not gorge when utterly flapped, lest we get fat and repulsive, like Mindy, over there, you poor midge."

"Fart-blossom," Mindy says absently, she's not fat and she knows it, Lenore knows it, they all know it.

"A lady at all times, that Metalman," Clarice says. Then a minute, "Speaking of which, you might just maybe either fix your robe or get dressed or get up off your back in Lenore's stuff, I'm not really all up for giving you a gynecological exam, which is sort of what you're making us do, here, O Lesbia of Thebes."

"Stuff and bother," says Mindy, or rather, "Stuth and bozzer"; and she gets up swaying and reaching for solid things, goes over to the door that goes into her little single bedroom off the bathroom. She got there first in September and took it, Clarice had said in a letter, this Playboy-Playmatish JAP from Scarsdale, and she's shedding what's left of her bathrobe, battered into submission, leaving it all wet in Lenore's lap in the chair by the door, and going through the door with her long legs, deliberate steps. Shuts the door.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 27 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2010

    Intelligent and hilarious

    David Foster Wallace is at his best when he has a full novel's worth of space to develop characters and plotlines. Compared to Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System is remarkably easy to read, while still remaining intellectually stimulating. The characters are fraught with psychological issues (illuminated by a similarly disordered psychiatrist). Best of all, it has several stories within the story, all of which explore the unifying theme of the limitations of language and definition. Then, of course, there are the parts that made me laugh out loud, and the parts that I would remember months later and crack a smile.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2001

    one for the ages

    this is such a great book. the ending is so great it leaves you guessing. my advice is to grab anything by dfw!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2012

    The greatest book I've ever read

    With The catcher in the rye,it's one of my favourite books.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2012

    Had to force myself to finish it

    This book is more a study of personalities than a story. The plot is very thin, the characters are unbelievable, the setting is unrealistic. I've read absurdist literature before, so I kept on reading this book, hoping it would go somewhere, but even fairy tales have better plots than this did!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Odd and confusing, but not horrible.

    This was another odd one, and I really don't know what to say about it. It was pretty good, but at times it made no sense whatsoever.

    Lenore seemed to be a bit dense at times. She just didn't seem to grasp what was going on most of the time. Her boyfriend Rick was teetering on crazy! Her therapist was nuts himself. Her brother and Wang Dang Lang were the most down-to-earth people in the story. And with one being a genius and the other with the name Wang Dang Lang... how down-to-earth can they really be?

    I don't know if my lack of connection with this one was because it was an audiobook or if it was because it was just a little to out there for me. I understood the basic theme to the book, but even with the "broom" sweeping the system the story was just plain odd. The characters were really not believable, and the short stories interlaced throughout were distracting. They did serve a purpose in giving insight into how Rick was thinking/feeling, but I think it could have been done much more effectively.

    The narrator was ok in this one. A few of the voices he did were off as to how I had them in my head, but he wasn't monotonous to listen to and he did use voices to help differentiate who was talking.

    A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. This is not a paid review and is a truthful and honest review.

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  • Posted December 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Perhaps better as a bound book rather than an audiobook?

    Oh my. I really don't even know how to summarize this book. Uh...a woman's grandmother goes missing from a nursing home, her excessively verbose boyfriend becomes overly insecure with their relationship and problems existing within their relationship become evident, the past returns, a bird becomes an evangelist, phone lines are crossed, alternate dimensions discovered...uh...that's just a little taste of what is going on in this thing.

    This audio book was like a story with ADD. It was so hard for me to follow what was going on. So many characters and times that went all over the place. I don't know how much of my difficulty in following the story was the fact that it was an audio book rather than the written word. There were a lot of one-sided conversations and recitation of old documents and transcripts, strange dialogue and rambling stories.

    However, on a positive note, moments of the book exuded a quirky dialogue that I loved!

    There were also outrageously named characters like (all spelled phonetically, since this was an audiobook, so I've never seen their names written):

    Peter Abbit (Peter Rabbit?)
    Judith Preeth (Judas Priest?)
    Rick Vigorous

    Do you have any idea how much I DISLIKE Rick Vigorous?! Jeez, his babbling stories drove me nuts. He is a very annoying man.

    I had high hopes for this story, as I had heard such good things about it. But holy moley! To me this was just a babbling mess with about 5 different storylines wrapped up in one story. And not in a neat and brilliant sort of way, but in a mish-mash of confusion. And I don't even know what to make of the ending. It felt like everything was left open-ended with nothing resolved. It felt like there was NO ending-- it just broke midway through the storyline. Perhaps if I had read this story instead of listening to the audiobook I may have a different takeaway and it would make more sense to me. But as it is, the audiobook made absolutely NO sense to me at all!

    So I was not a fan of this one, but that's just me. There are obviously plenty of people out there who disagree with me and feel that this was a brilliant story! But for me, it shone dimly.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 23, 2009

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    Posted November 29, 2008

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    Posted October 16, 2011

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    Posted June 8, 2011

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    Posted October 20, 2009

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    Posted October 31, 2010

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    Posted August 17, 2010

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    Posted January 5, 2014

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    Posted December 9, 2009

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