If you're looking for a light mainstream read with straightforward
plotting and conventional prose, don't read The Broom of the System.
But if what you're after is an hilariously unconventional yet
definitely rewarding metafictional challenge, pick it up.
The Broom of the System is the first novel by David Foster Wallace,
whose Infinite Jest had the book world all abuzz a few years ago.
Certainly more accessible in length than Infinite Jest, The Broom of
the System is slightly less confusing and very nearly as entertaining.
This is a narrative-less novel, a tale told sans exposition. Chapters
are in transcript form, stream-of-consciousness monologues, one-sided
conversations (with replies indicated by ellipses), and feverishly
cathartic short stories invented by characters.
Like Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System deals with a
ridiculously dysfunctional family, focusing on one member -- in this case,
Lenore Beadsman. Lenore, heiress to the Stonecipheco baby food fortune,
works as a switchboard operator for the laughably unprofitable publishing
house of Frequent and Vigorous in Cleveland, Ohio. She's estranged from
her father, rarely sees her odd assortment of siblings, and her mother
has been institutionalized for years. The only family member she's
remotely close to is her great-grandmother and namesake Lenore, and she
(Lenore Sr.) has gone missing from her nursing home, along with twenty-
five other residents and a few staff members. The whole disappearance
is ominously connected to a pineal additive Stonecipheco is developing.
Her (Lenore Jr.'s) father cajoles her into searching for Lenore (Sr.),
who has apparently absconded with the research materials.
In between therapy sessions with her hygiene-fixated psychologist, an
affair with her highly possessive and minisculely endowed boss Rick
Vigorous, and run-ins with a televagelist who covets her scripture-
quoting cockatiel, Lenore will encounter obese consumption-minded moguls
and lifesized inflatable dolls in a quest that ranges from the skyscraper
shadows of the Cleveland streets to the quiet campus greens of Amherst
to the black sands and transplanted cacti of the Great Ohio Desert.
Like Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System leaves
the central mystery ultimately unsolved. The ostensible story question
-- "Will Lenore (Sr.) be found?" -- acts not as a skeleton upon which
to drape a plot, but as an excuse for peeping into the windows of the
characters' lives and selves. There are enough laugh-out-loud moments
to more than justify the number of literary conventions flouted.