Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Book Review : David Foster Wallace - The Broom Of The System (1987)
Genre: Literary\Postmodern Fiction
My fingers are avoiding the keyboard like John Cage's fingers during an interpretation of 4'33. I am trying desperately to wrap up my thoughts about The Broom Of The System in one or two well though, accurate sentence, but I can't. By wanting to be accurate about The Broom Of The System, I wouldn't give an accurate portrait of the novel. You see where this is going, I'm sure. David Foster Wallace's first novel (and first work of fiction) was a very enjoyable read, but it left me confused and reeling from its blast of energy.
The story revolves around Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, a young neurotic switchboard operator and her boyfriend (and boss) Rick Vigorous, who keep ping-ponging the narrative lead with frequent third party interruptions. Lenore's grandmother (who's also named Lenore Beadsman) disappears from her nursing home along with twenty something other people, without any warning or trace. Then life around Lenore starts taking a curious turn as starts to wonder whether she's real or not. That's the best way I can describe what happens.
Curiously, the novel opens on a "normal" chapter, nine years before the events of the book, where Lenore visits her sister at her college, just to be crashed by two drunken kids on their initiation, which implies that the frantic, surreal tone of the novel is provoked by Lenore's emotional struggle. Fuck, this is complex. What I got from The Broom Of The System is a questioning on the foundations of human identity. The most interesting part is where Lenore explains her grandmother's strong beliefs in Wittgenstein's philosophy (who she studied directly under) that the foundation of human character is built through language, symbols and meaning. That puts in perspective the empty (and hilarious) therapy session Lenore and Rick have with Dr. Jay and their hatred for his trivial interpretations.
The Broom Of The System expresses something very clear. Language shapes the idea we draw of ourselves. Saying it like this is pretty clear, but it doesn't do justice to the vivid portrait Wallace created of Lenore's life during her existential crisis. He drew a very clear portrait of a very complex and tormented person. It's by no means an easy reading, it requires long sittings and a quiet atmosphere in order to soak and understand the highly philosophical worries behind The Broom Of The System. It's rewarding, but also exhausting and confusing to try and follow the chaotic, fractal energy of a mind that boils with ideas. The directionless nature of the novel makes it hard to keep compelling, but once you've sunken in, you don't want to get out. I enjoyed The Broom Of The System, but I'm not sure I understood it. It left me amazed but frustrated at the same time. I guess I need to read it again.