Alex's Reviews > The Broom of the System

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
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Jun 23, 08

Recommended for: philosophy majors
Read in June, 2008

"It's no Infinite Jest."

That's probably the most obnoxious way I could possibly kick off this brief review of a book which, on its own terms, is very good. It's funny and clever, indubitably "smart". Some of the scenes are fantastic - for example, a finale that reminds of the procession at the end of 8 1/2 - and some are deliciously cringe-worthy - for example, almost anything containing one Mr. Rick Vigorous.

But, at risk of belaboring this point, it's not Infinite Jest.

I remember reading an interview with Bob Dylan, in which he pleads that people not judge his new record against his own body of work. "Judge me against somebody else." It's a fair request, but given the difficulty in compartmentalizing appreciation, it's almost impossible to comply with.

With David Foster Wallace, of course, this axiological sequence is reversed; his older stuff is what one would like to avoid comparing to the newer.

Where Infinite Jest had a cast of ontologically distinct characters, the inhabitants of The Broom of the System seem each to be quirky variants on a singular, hyperliterate consciousness. It's tough to imagine a world in which seemingly everyone is able and willing to discourse on various theories of solipsism and interconnection at the drop of a hat. Unless that world is a college campus...

And I think that's my issue, here. This book, though ostensibly set in and around Cleveland, is really a college novel. I imagine young Mr. Wallace, not wanting to write just another coming-of-age-in-educated-society tract, concentrating all of his formidable intellect and projecting outwards toward what he imagines the "outside" world is like, wanting to make it authentic and mature.

And where it succeeds, it's clever, and funny, and sometimes sensitive. Where it doesn't, it's still entertaining in a philosophy-major sort of way. It just lacks the cohesive sensibility that makes Infinite Jest brilliant.

But, to be fair to this ambitious "little" book, the phrase "It's no Infinite Jest" can be said even more emphatically of nearly every book I've ever read.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Chris Amies You sum up very well my feeling about it that it is a 'campus novel' despite not being set on a college campus. The ubiquitous intellectualism, the funny names as though nobody in the outside world is going to notice, the arcane rituals that make sense in context but nowhere else ... campus novel all the way down. I did enjoy it though (and possibly 'enjoy' rather than 'like').

Alan Newman I think Rick Vigorous is the author's alter ego in this book--the storyteller searching for love, acceptance and success. Some of his stories are the most wonderful pieces of writing in the book. Wallace clearly had selfesteem issues, and I think Vigorous is his overly self critical, satiric view of himself. He is the only character in the book who loves without reservation or without imposing conditions on his beloved.

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