Last Review of 2013! The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace

It clearly isn’t 2013, but I think that this is the last book I have been meaning to review from 2013. I got really far behind, it seems. Don’t want to do that again – I have spent like 4 hours writing about these books, and it would be much more enjoyable to just do 1 at a time.

broom of the system (wallace)

So I have been saving this one for last: The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace. I have been saving it because I didn’t know – still don’t, really – what to write. This was DFW’s first book, and it was his thesis. It centres on the main character’s fear that she is a linguistic construct rather than a real human:

“No, she simply felt — at times, mind you, not all the time, but at sharp and distinct intuitive moments — as if she had no real existence, except for what she said and did and perceived and et cetera, and that these were, it seemed at such times, not really under he control. There was nothing pure.” (67)


“LENORE: But not necessarily even a person, is the thing. The telling makes its own reasons. Gramma says any telling automatically becomes a kind of system, that controls everybody involved.” (122)

It is ambitious but not perfectly executed. There are, probably, some autobiographical moments, which tell you a lot about DFW:

“That is, it occurs to me now in force that in college things were never, not ever, at no single point, simply all right. Things were never just OK. I was never just getting by. Never. I can remember I was always horribly afraid. …” (207)

There are other bits about time and aging, particularly this which I liked:

“‘That as people age, accumulate more and more private experience, their sense of history tightens, narrows, becomes more personal? So that to the extent that they remember events of social importance, they remember only for example “where they were” when such-and-such occurred. Et cetera et cetera. Objective events and data become naturally more and more subjectively colored.” (369)

What I liked about it is that you can see so many different ways of thinking coming out in this first novel – things that will reappear in his more developed books later (e.g. Infinite Jest). (I don’t really know what I’ll give it on Goodreads. Probably a 3? But it is a strong 3/3.5.)


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