Taka's Reviews > The Broom of the System

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
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's review
Jan 22, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: japan_jul07-aug11, post-modern_lit
Read in January, 2008


As a raving fanatic of DFW, I was surprisingly and to all contrary expectations let down quite thoroughly by his first novel. People say it's a mini Infinite Jest, but that's really not true at all. I mean there are budding and teasing similarities, but they are, in my opinion, very different novels concerned with different issues. First, The Broom of the System is mostly in dialogue without the sharp wit and rolling-on-the-floor-funny humor and the trademark myriad lengthy footnotes you see in his later works. Second, it is a hell of a lot less pretentious; i.e. I didn't have to consult the OED, not even once, which is unthinkable in his later works, fiction or essays. In this sense, the book is much easier to read, but then for a seasoned DFW fan/reader, it felt lightweight, paltry, and very unsatisfying indeed. In other words, I felt cheated.

Indulge me with a little rant. The quintessential DFW experience is a menagerie of pretentiousness, sophistication, and killer humor blended together with the right amount of direction or plot. And here I say pretentiousness in its most positive sense. People tend to say, "Oh that's pretentious!" in the spirit of angry and dismissive criticism, but if you look at it more carefully, what's wrong with being pretentious? You know a lot of stuff, and you show off what you know. And what's wrong with that? Does it make you feel stupid? Ignorant? Inadequate? Well then, big guy, maybe you should sit, look up those words, learn them, and delve in further. Be a little more patient when reading books. It's literature, not popular fiction. It offers you an opportunity to be more educated, more knowledgeable, and perhaps - God forbid - more pretentious. Anyway, DFW's pretentiousness is by no means a malicious or harmful kind where he's trying to put you down or show he's a hundred times smarter than you. On the contrary, it seems to be informed by a desire to just play around with words (e.g. Hey, this word sounds cool, why not use it?).

But I digress. The point is that The Broom of the System didn't offer the full range and depth of DFW experience. It wasn't pretentious (which can be a good thing for some readers), it wasn't that sophisticated (no footnotes? Come on. And any cool plot? Like a film that makes people watch until they die and is being hunted by a Canadian wheelchair terrorist group to give the big terrorizing finger to the US?), and it wasn't that funny (I can recall only three, at most four, instances when I laughed out loud). The plot, too, was pretty bland and wasn't exciting. It also kept going off on tremendous tangents that weren't 1) funny or 2)relevant to the main story.

So all in all, it was such a let-down that it almost hurt when the book ended as it did. Read his essays and his magnum opus, but this one isn't that worth it.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Rob (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob i actually did feel that the plot was impressively intricate in its construction, with ex-roommates and ex-wives and ex-neighbors wending their way back into each other's lives.

but otherwise, i agree.

Taka Glad to make friends with someone with a similar view on this book, Rob.

Maybe it was intricate, but it seemed bland in terms of not having any fantastic, weird, and maybe even absurd elements like in IJ, which I absolutely loved. De gustibus non est disputanum, after all :D

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