Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Broom of the System

The Broom of the System  by David Foster Wallace
(borrowed unabridged audiobook from the Camden County Library System)

This was DFW's first novel and it's a doozy.  I keep trying to find a way to explain this book and I don't even know if it is possible.  Listening to the book over the course of many commutes to and from work, I was amazed by the language and the silliness, the cast of highly unusual characters, including a parrot named Vlad the Impaler who goes from being able to mimic a few words to not only repeating all that he hears, but seemingly able to form thoughts and cogent sentiments using just the things he picks up.

In David Foster Wallace's version of Cleveland, and the world, I guess, for that matter, they have the same sentiment about commerce as my grandmother had.  Every store name became a possessive.  The Wawa convenience store became Wawa's, like there was a Mr. Wawa running the show.  Of course, in The Broom of the System even the large corporations are named for their owners/leaders/founders.  The Apex Company is of course run by a Mr. Apex.  The main character, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, is the daughter of Stonecipher Beadsman, III, owner/leader/founder of Stoneciphico, responsible for the number two baby food in the world.  Lenore works for Frequent and Vigorous Publications, a joint venture between her extremely odd boss and boyfriend, Rick Virgorous and, you guessed it, a Mr. Frequent.

Lenore discovers that her great grandmother, Lenore Beadsman, as well as a couple of dozen of her fellow old folks and staff members of the nursing home her grandson, Stonecipher Beadsman bought/finances for her to live in, have disappeared.  Lenore, the younger, goes in for her weekly visit, only to be told by the administrator for the facility that the elder Lenore, and the 26 or so others are just, not there.  No explanation, no reports to the authorities and no notification to family members are given or will be given. Lenore sets out to figure out just what is happening.

This is just one in a series of interconnected mysteries. There's also the messed up phone lines at Frequent and Vigorous Publishing, the mother who was driven mad by her husband and never been able to forgive herself for the damage done to her, then, unborn son when she tried to see her other children. There's the therapist who is so incredibly unfit for his position, inside of Lenore and Rick's heads.  Not to mention the man responsible for a very alarming experience when Lenore was in her teens is suddenly back in the picture, along with his estranged wife, who has connections to that incident and to Rick.  The list just goes on and on.

I think it's the language that makes this book just pull you in, whether you are rooting for the characters, frustrated on their behalf or just puzzled by how it all fits together.  The systematic repetition of words within a section of the tale fights for your attention. DFW's gift for the English language is astounding and amazing. His way with words and the way he could manipulate the story and the reader's feelings about it is unlike any other author I've read.  I've got a feeling that the inside of David Foster Wallace's head was a fascinating, and possibly slightly scary place, and I can totally respect that.

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