Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace

This is David Foster Wallace's debut novel, which takes place in 1990 in an alternate Cleveland, OH. At some point in the past, the government decided that Ohioans would benefit from having a desert--a place to wander alone and reflect, free of shopping malls and civilization--and so they engineered the Great Ohio Desert, or G.O.D.

Our heroine, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, is the daughter of the wealthy owner of a baby food company but chooses to work as a switchboard attendant at a publishing company. Her great-grandmother, a former student of Wittgenstein who cannot survive if the room temperature is below 98.6 degrees, has just disappeared from a nursing home, along with 25 other inmates. Her boyfriend, who's also her boss, is insanely jealous and possessive. And her pet cockatiel has begun speaking a mixture of sexual and religious psychobable, which may propel him to stardom on a Christian broadcasting network.

There's a lot going on in the story, but it didn't seem as difficult as his fiction is made out to be. (I'd previously only read his nonfiction.) Granted, many reviews say it is much more accessible than Infinite Jest (which I do intend to take on at some point, though I don't look forward to having to lug that thing around with me on the subway).

The book is bizarre, funny, and highly imaginative. It ends in the middle of a sentence, which feels a little dissatisfying, as though the story should keep going but we are only revealed a slice of it. But that feeling wore off after awhile.

There's a new edition of the book with Vlad the Impaler (the cockatiel) on the cover, which is all well and good, but I really prefer the one pictured above. It features an aerial view of the Cleveland suburb where the story takes place, a town that was designed to look like Jayne Mansfield's head from above.

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