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The Broom of the System: A Novel Paperback – May 25, 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 125 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The year is 1990, and the place Cleveland. Lenore Beadsman works as a telephone operator for Frequent and Vigorous Publishers. Her roommate's name is Candy Mandible, their parrot is Vlad the Impaler, there is a Judith Prietht, and businesses have names like Hunt and Peck. Lenore's great-grandmother and several cronies disappear from their nursing home, and the search for them leads across the Great Ohio Desert (G.O.D.). The novel is largely dialogue, much of it quite funny and perceptive. Obviously not aimed at the Danielle Steel or Robert Ludlum crowds, Wallace's book will appeal to people his age (mid-20s) and to older readers who enjoy trying the unfamiliar. Libraries serving such patrons should consider it. Mary K. Prokop, CEL Regional Lib., Savannah, Ga.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"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

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142002429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142002421
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #732,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tung Yin VINE VOICE on May 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
When I was in my early twenties, I read a lot of works by emerging young writers like Jay McInerney, Bret Ellis, and others. Looking back on it now, it seems unfair to put David Foster Wallace in the same category as those writers, as he is far more talented and imaginative.
"The Broom of the System" is Wallace's debut, and like most first-borns, it received the most love and attention. It's more accessible than "Infinite Jest" and can be read more easily in smaller chunks without having to figure out, for example, when the events being narrated actually took place.
There isn't much of a plot in "Broom," which is remarkable when one considers that the novel runs over 500 pages. Loosely speaking, it's about the travails of Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, a 24 year old woman who works as a telephone switch operator for a magazine edited by her lover, Rick Vigorous, who is anything but. Her grandmother (also named Lenore) has disappeared from her nursing home, and Lenore is the only one who seems worried. But that's only a fraction of what the book is about.
It's full of stories within stories, some the sad submissions that Vigorous derides (but that are far better than his limp and self-indulgent attempts at writing), others little asides that seem irrelevant but aren't. Mostly, "Broom" is an exploration of language and ideas -- some chapters involve highly detailed descriptions of, for example, the Goldberg-like trail of a pebble; other chapters are entirely dialogue, with no description of who is speaking (but which is clear from context).
In other words, this is not a novel about sex and drugs (although there are sex and drugs), and it's not a shallow, Gen-Ex picture of excess. The nearest comparison I can think of, in a loose way, is Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon."
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Well, did you like "Infinite Jest"? If so, then yes. "Broom of the System" may not be more of the same, but it's at least less of the same: shorter and less convoluted but with a similar meandering structure and Douglas-Adams-as-grad-student sensibility. "The Broom of the System" is a solid piece of highbrow comedy that stands on its own, though it's hard for "Infinite Jest" fans not to approach it as a warmup. Here's where DFW takes his first crack at many of the themes that wind up in Infinite Book: the (I guess unsurprising) obsession with prodigies, particularly adolescent males who do well in school, the fearless embrace of pretension, and a weakness for glib patter that nicely sets off the occasional jab of sincerity that manages to peek through. The prose is loopy, though more conventionally so. DFW had not yet worked out the collision of stoner-speak and dissertationese that gave "Infinite Jest" its distinctive voice, but the seeds are there. Even plotwise there are echoes: like "Infinite Jest", "Broom of the System" ends in medias res, and it's interesting to see version 1.0 of this neat trick. BotS may not be a re-reader, but it's definitely a reader, and an enjoyable one, assuming you like this sort of thing.
And if you don't? Specifically, what if you disliked "Infinite Jest"? Then the question becomes: how much did you dislike "Infinite Jest"? Say you found it annoying from the word go, think DFW is an insufferable smartypants, and hurled (or more like shotputted) the book across the room soon after the chapter that begins "Where was the woman who said she'd come. She said she would come" and continues in that vein for a good ten pages? Well, obviously you're going to hate "Broom of the System" too.
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Format: Paperback
Curious and wonderful to see what someone as (obviously insane?) as DFW did back when he was still in a grad program for creative writing -- back when he was just a cunning tyke of 26, before (presumably) the MacArthur Fellowship had given him an oversized novelty cheque just for being really really smart --- before he started writing 1100 page behemoths and incalculably inscrutable short stories. Broom Of The System is, in a way, as straightforward a narrative as DFW ever has written (although there are plenty of POV shifts and a huge, steaming plate of metafictional story-on-story action)... It is a jumping off point, certainly, and you can see some of his fabulous textual obsessions of later books (fathers and dysfunctional families and drugs and addictions) in their earlier forms, here. DFW is to fiction what the band Rush was to music: he is a prog-rock artist, switching POVs and the like with a merciless disregard for tradition, and it's probably best to view his work-- esp. something like Infinite Jest -- as experiments, and not "stories." But with Broom of the System you get a little bit of both -- the first chapter in particular, I think, is one of the most flat-out charming bits of DFW's that I've read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not going to go into the story much because a) who am I? and b) there are plenty of people here and elsewhere who have. What I want to talk about it the Kindle format of this book.

To put it simply: I feel like this might have been a book that Amazon first used to experiment with Kindle formatting. There are all kinds of weird things, but two specific ones showed up all the time.

Most notably, almost any time the character 'r' is followed by the character 'n' in the actual text, the Kindle version reads those two characters together an a 'm'. So instead of 'torn' you get 'tom.' Instead of 'Vern' you get 'Vem.' I think I found one instance in which this didn't happen, otherwise I had to 'translate' in my head.

Secondly, on many occasions the quotation marks ending a line of dialog were preceded with a space. So you have something like this: "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, ". What often happens then is that the final quotation mark ends up on the next line all by itself. Which isn't a big deal but looks really weird.

There are other, less-frequently-occurring oddities, but none were as pervasive as the ones listed above. And even these aren't a huge concern except that they yank you out of the narrative experience - make you aware of the fact of reading, which, ironically, Wallace would have smiled at I think. But this is why editors & typesetters for centuries have been careful about spelling and formatting and all that goes with it. My Kindle has quickly become one of my favorite devices, and I wish Amazon (or whoever it is that actually makes the Kindle editions) would apply the same level of care, concern and commitment to their formatting that traditional editors & typesetters have done for a long time.
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