The Broom of the System (Penguin Ink)

The Broom of the System (Penguin Ink)


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The "dazzling, exhilarating" (San Francisco Chronicle) debut novel from one of this century's most groundbreaking writers

Published when David Foster Wallace was just twenty-four years old, The Broom of the System stunned critics and marked the emergence of an extraordinary new talent. At the center of this outlandishly funny, fiercely intelligent novel is the bewitching heroine, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman. The year is 1990 and the place is a slightly altered Cleveland, Ohio. Lenore’s great-grandmother has disappeared with twenty-five other inmates of the Shaker Heights Nursing Home. Her beau, and boss, Rick Vigorous, is insanely jealous, and her cockatiel, Vlad the Impaler, has suddenly started spouting a mixture of psycho-babble, Auden, and the King James Bible. Ingenious and entertaining, this debut from one of the most innovative writers of his generation brilliantly explores the paradoxes of language, storytelling, and reality.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143116936
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/29/2010
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 197,457
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) wrote what would become his first novel, The Broom of the System, as his senior English thesis at Amherst College. He received an MFA from the University of Arizona in 1987 and briefly pursued graduate work in philosophy at Harvard. His second novel, Infinite Jest, was published in 1996. Wallace taught creative writing at Emerson College, Illinois State University, and Pomona College and published the story collections Girl with Curious HairBrief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Oblivion and the essay collections A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Consider the Lobster. He was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, and a Whiting Writers’ Award and served on the Usage Panel for The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. His last novel, The Pale King, was published posthumously in 2011.

Date of Birth:

February 21, 1962

Date of Death:

September 12, 2008

Place of Birth:

Ithaca, NY

Place of Death:

Claremont, CA


B.A. in English & Philosophy, Amherst College, 1985;MFA, University of Arizona, 1987

Read an Excerpt



Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. They're long and thin and splay toed, with buttons of yellow callus on the little toes and a thick stair-step of it on the back of the heel, and a few long black hairs are curling out of the skin at the tops of the feet, and the red nail polish is cracking and peeling in curls and candy-striped with decay. Lenore only notices because Mindy's bent over in the chair by the fridge picking at some of the polish on her toes; her bathrobe's opening a little, so there's some cleavage visible and everything, a lot more than Lenore's got, and the thick white towel wrapped around Mindy's wet washed shampooed head is coming undone and a wisp of dark shiny hair has slithered out of a crack in the folds and curled down all demurely past the side of Mindy's face and under her chin. It smells like Flex shampoo in the room, and also pot, since Clarice and Sue Shaw are smoking a big thick j-bird Lenore got from Ed Creamer back at Shaker School and brought up with some other stuff for Clarice, here at school.

What's going on is that Lenore Beadsman, who's fifteen, has just come all the way from home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, right near Cleveland, to visit her big sister, Clarice Beadsman, who's a fresh man at this women's college, called Mount Holyoke; and Lenore's staying with her sleeping bag in this room on the second floor of Rumpus Hall that Clarice shares with her roommates, Mindy Metal man and Sue Shaw. Lenore's also come to sort of check out this college, a little bit. This is because even though she's just fifteen she's supposedly quite intelligent and thus acceleratedand already a junior at Shaker School and thus thinking about college, application-wise, for next year. So she's visiting. Right now it's a Friday night in March.

Sue Shaw, who's not nearly as pretty as Mindy or Clarice, is bringing the joint over here to Mindy and Lenore, and Mindy takes it and lets her toe alone for a second and sucks the bird really hard, so it glows bright and a seed snaps loudly and bits of paper ash go flying and floating, which Clarice and Sue find super funny and start laughing at really hard, whooping and clutching at each other, and Mindy breathes it in really deep and holds it in and passes the bird to Lenore, but Lenore says no thank you.

"No thank you," says Lenore.

"Go ahead, you brought it, why not . . . ," croaks Mindy Metal man, talking the way people talk without breathing, holding on to the smoke.

"I know, but it's track season at school and I'm on the team and I don't smoke during the season, I can't, it kills me," Lenore says.

So Mindy shrugs and finally lets out a big breath of pale used-up smoke and coughs a deep little cough and gets up with the bird and takes it over across the room to Clarice and Sue Shaw, who are by a big wooden stereo speaker listening to this song, again, by Cat Stevens, for like the tenth time tonight. Mindy's robe's more or less open, now, and Lenore can see some pretty amazing stuff, but Mindy just walks across the room. Lenore can at this point divide all the girls she's known neatly into girls who think deep down they're pretty and girls who deep down think they're really not. Girls who think they're pretty don't care much about their bathrobes being undone and are good at makeup and like to walk when people are watching, and they act different when there are boys around; and girls like Lenore, who don't think they're too pretty, tend not to wear makeup, and run track, and wear black Converse sneakers, and keep their bathrobes pretty well fastened at all times. Mindy sure is pretty, though, except for her feet.

The Cat Stevens song is over again, and the needle goes up by itself, and obviously none of these three feel like moving all the way to start it again, so they're just sitting back in their hard wood desk chairs, Mindy in her faded pink terry robe with one shiny smooth leg all bare and sticking out; Clarice in her Desert boots and her dark blue jeans that Lenore calls her shoe-horn jeans, and that white western shirt she'd wore at the state fair the time she'd had her purse stolen, and her blond hair flooding all over the shirt, and her eyes very blue right now; Sue Shaw with her red hair and a green sweater and green tartan skirt and fat white legs with a bright red pimple just over one knee, legs crossed with one foot jiggling one of those boat shoes, with the sick white soles--Lenore dislikes that kind of shoe a lot.Clarice after a quiet bit lets out a long sigh and says, in whispers, "Cat . . . is . . . God," giggling a little at the end. The other two giggle too.

"God? How can Cat be God? Cat exists." Mindy's eyes are all red.

"That's offensive and completely blasphemous," says Sue Shaw, eyes wide and puffed and indignant.

"Blasphemous?" Clarice dies, looks at Lenore. "Blasphemous," she says. Her eyes aren't all that bad, really, just unusually cheerful, as if she's got a joke she's not telling.

"Blissphemous," says Mindy.
They're dying, doubled over, and Lenore's laughing that weird sympathetic laugh you laugh when everybody else is laughing so hard they make you laugh too. The noise of the big party downstairs is coming through the floor and vibrating in Lenore's black sneakers and the arms of the chair. Now Mindy slides out of her desk chair all limp and shlomps down on Lenore's sleeping bag on the floor next to Clarice's pretend-Persian ruglet from Mooradian's in Cleveland, and Mindy modestly covers her crotch with a comer of her robe, but Lenore still can't help but see the way her breasts swell up into the worn pink towel cloth of the robe, all full and stuff, even lying down on her back, there, on the floor. Lenore unconsciously looks down a little at her own chest, under her flannel shirt.

"Hunger," Sue Shaw says after a minute. "Massive, immense, uncontrollable, consuming, uncontrollable, hunger."

"This is so," says Mindy.

"We will wait"--Clarice looks at her watch on the underside of her wrist--"one, that is one hour, before eating anything what soentirelyever."

"No we can't possibly possibly do that."

"But do it we shall. As per room discussions of not one week ago, when we explicitly agreed that we shall not gorge when utterly flapped, lest we get fat and repulsive, like Mindy, over there, you poor midge."

"Fart-blossom," Mindy says absently, she's not fat and she knows it, Lenore knows it, they all know it.

"A lady at all times, that Metalman," Clarice says. Then a minute, "Speaking of which, you might just maybe either fix your robe or get dressed or get up off your back in Lenore's stuff, I'm not really all up for giving you a gynecological exam, which is sort of what you're making us do, here, O Lesbia of Thebes."

"Stuff and bother," says Mindy, or rather, "Stuth and bozzer"; and she gets up swaying and reaching for solid things, goes over to the door that goes into her little single bedroom off the bathroom. She got there first in September and took it, Clarice had said in a letter, this Playboy-Playmatish JAP from Scarsdale, and she's shedding what's left of her bathrobe, battered into submission, leaving it all wet in Lenore's lap in the chair by the door, and going through the door with her long legs, deliberate steps. Shuts the door.


Excerpted from "The Broom of the System"
by .
Copyright © 2010 David Foster Wallace.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Daring, hilarious... a zany picaresque adventure of contemporary America run amok." —The New York Times

"Wonderful... a cathartic experience with lots of laughs and lots of deeper meanings." —The Washington Post Book World

Bob Shatovich

The Broom of the System is a storm of a book. We build nuclear reactors that burn less energy than this guy does.

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The Broom of the System 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
David Foster Wallace is at his best when he has a full novel's worth of space to develop characters and plotlines. Compared to Infinite Jest, The Broom of the System is remarkably easy to read, while still remaining intellectually stimulating. The characters are fraught with psychological issues (illuminated by a similarly disordered psychiatrist). Best of all, it has several stories within the story, all of which explore the unifying theme of the limitations of language and definition. Then, of course, there are the parts that made me laugh out loud, and the parts that I would remember months later and crack a smile.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is such a great book. the ending is so great it leaves you guessing. my advice is to grab anything by dfw!
jamescostello on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I ever listened to. It's the only book I ever listened too; but nonetheless, it was really good. The reading by Petkoff was excellent. Wallace is an extraordinary writer: prose stylist, characterization, plot, digressions. This book is great on many levels, thoughtful and entertaining. And very, very funny.
IonaS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A programme promising to indicate which famous writer you most write like, at any rate in a specific text, stated that my style resembled that of David Foster Wallace. I had previously never heard of this writer, but after reading this book I can tell you that the said statement was wildly inaccurate. David Foster Wallace is a highly gifted writer, exceedingly articulate and cerebral-I didn't get all the allusions in the book (and it didn't help that I'm not an American), and sometimes I couldn't remember who was who, but it proved to be zany and entertaining, though I never laughed out loud like some readers claimed to do.The story revolves around a young woman called Lenore, various members of her family, including her eccentric and intellectual great-grandmother of the same name, her crazy boyfriend Rick Vigorous and her just as wacky therapist. Wallace exaggerates to the point of Rabelaisian absurdity (though he's not as crude as Rabelais), one of the highlights of the story being the tale of how Lenore's brother lost part of his leg at the moment of forcibly being ejected from his mother's womb. Another impressive "personage" is Leonore's cockatoo, Vlad the Impaler, who ends by becoming the star of a popular evangelist TV show.The book contains many other farcical scenarios, themes and sub-themes. In short, Wallace seems to be taking the mickey out of American society.You get addicted to reading the book and thus quickly get through it, and I've now begun on Wallace's 1,000 page second novel, Infinite Jest. Though entertaining, the book under review is not one I would absolutely recommend as a must read.
ffortsa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very inventive, but adolescent - a young writer displaying his energy and skill.
nfmgirl2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh my. I really don't even know how to summarize this book. Uh...a woman's grandmother goes missing from a nursing home, her excessively verbose boyfriend becomes overly insecure with their relationship and problems existing within their relationship become evident, the past returns, a bird becomes an evangelist, phone lines are crossed, alternate dimensions discovered...uh...that's just a little taste of what is going on in this thing.This audio book was like a story with ADD. It was so hard for me to follow what was going on. So many characters and times that went all over the place. I don¿t know how much of my difficulty in following the story was the fact that it was an audio book rather than the written word. There were a lot of one-sided conversations and recitation of old documents and transcripts, strange dialogue and rambling stories.However, on a positive note, moments of the book exuded a quirky dialogue that I loved!There were also outrageously named characters like (all spelled phonetically, since this was an audiobook, so I've never seen their names written):Peter Abbit (Peter Rabbit?)Judith Preeth (Judas Priest?)Rick VigorousDo you have any idea how much I DISLIKE Rick Vigorous?! Jeez, his babbling stories drove me nuts. He is a very annoying man.I had high hopes for this story, as I had heard such good things about it. But holy moley! To me this was just a babbling mess with about 5 different storylines wrapped up in one story. And not in a neat and brilliant sort of way, but in a mish-mash of confusion. And I don¿t even know what to make of the ending. It felt like everything was left open-ended with nothing resolved. It felt like there was NO ending-- it just broke midway through the storyline. Perhaps if I had read this story instead of listening to the audiobook I may have a different takeaway and it would make more sense to me. But as it is, the audiobook made absolutely NO sense to me at all!So I was not a fan of this one, but that's just me. There are obviously plenty of people out there who disagree with me and feel that this was a brilliant story! But for me, it shone dimly.
dugenstyle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'll keep it simple: you can't tell its a first novel. All of the intellect, imagination, and humor that I love about DFW's writing was here in full force; however, the aspect of his writing I've found most powerful - his overwhelmingly urgent since of earnestness (i.e., "I-feel-this-way-and-sometimes-i-feel-like-im-the-only-one-do-you-feel-this-way-too?") - is mostly absent in the novel except maybe for parts in the end, which made the writing risk feeling clever or gimmicky: a sense I've not ever gotten in any of his other writing.
bardsfingertips on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I feel like I know a little more, perhaps just an inkling, about this young man who took his own life. I feel as though he saw the world slightly different than most of us. I feel as though, from reading this book, he saw the details we choose to ignore.Somewhere, I saw that the word Broom sometimes means Death. Perhaps this is from Emily Dickinson where I first came across this¿ Anyway, I feel like that there is an underlying system that Wallace is trying to show us in this work (his world¿perhaps even within the homage construction of Jayne Mansfield). I feel like here, this system that must be swept away, is so plainly seen before our eyes we are blind to it.I have heard David Foster Wallace's speech about supermarkets and his disgust at watching these poor people repeat this single aspect of their lives they feel they must complete: picking up prepackaged designer food, waiting in line, giving money to people you would never care to know, and going home to eat it; repeat.In the Broom of the System, we have a young woman who, I feel, is confused about her place in things. Or, much rather, she gets confused when things get disrupted in a somewhat surreal manner. For once, she is able to see how wrong, askew the world is when her grandmother goes missing. From here, we get to explore members of her family, who are more strange than the last. We get inside the head of her "boyfriend" and boss. And we get to see that being normal, sometimes, means just being exactly who you are with the introduction of a Texan in an falling apart marriage.Every situation in the book is simply taken as-is by many of the bystanders. It is not until the world heats up to body temperature that we finally understand something: that we all have the ability to end what is out-of-synch if we wish to.I just feel in DFW's case, there was just not enough within himself to set things right. The details seeped in.
fetchseven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is supremely interesting. The events are so well detailed that at times I felt as if I were acting more as an observer than a reader. While the extensive descriptions can make for rather slow going at times, you are often rewarded as long tangents will often end up being hilarious or relevant to the story.It took me almost a year to finish this title but the hilarious and complex characters kept bringing me back to check in on them and see how their lives were progressing. The narration can be slow or confusing at times but the characters and their dilemmas offer a story well worth reading.
markfinl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what to make of this book. It is wildly inventive and funny but at the same time it's a mess. Characters come and go, plot threads are picked up and discarded, sometimes to return, sometimes not. I realize that it is a novel of ideas and narrative continuity was not the author's concern, but it just feels like Wallace is trying too hard. He wanted so much to put in every idea, clever pun and narrative device, that he never settled down long enough to construct a coherent story. Reading the book reminds me of being introduced to a friend's extremely clever child.
dmtmusic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My introduction to David Foster Wallace. I¿d read about him a fair amount, and heard that he was great, so when I came across The Broom of the System in a used book shop on a trip, I snatched it up. An excellent novel. The characters are delightfully bizarre (though sometimes exasperatingly inconsistent). The ending, I both hated and loved. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
petrojoh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book seemed to be heading for a giant metaphorical ending. I was expecting to gain insight into contemporary America. However, in the end, the narrative was a metaphor only for itself, without implications for anything larger.
EdwardC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wallace's first novel is, like others in his class (Moody, et al), acutely aware of the foibles of humankind. It's the kind of writing that brings DIckens to mind. That sort of compassion and extraliterary social agenda.
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With The catcher in the rye,it's one of my favourite books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is more a study of personalities than a story. The plot is very thin, the characters are unbelievable, the setting is unrealistic. I've read absurdist literature before, so I kept on reading this book, hoping it would go somewhere, but even fairy tales have better plots than this did!
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Jennmarie68 More than 1 year ago
This was another odd one, and I really don't know what to say about it. It was pretty good, but at times it made no sense whatsoever. Lenore seemed to be a bit dense at times. She just didn't seem to grasp what was going on most of the time. Her boyfriend Rick was teetering on crazy! Her therapist was nuts himself. Her brother and Wang Dang Lang were the most down-to-earth people in the story. And with one being a genius and the other with the name Wang Dang Lang... how down-to-earth can they really be? I don't know if my lack of connection with this one was because it was an audiobook or if it was because it was just a little to out there for me. I understood the basic theme to the book, but even with the "broom" sweeping the system the story was just plain odd. The characters were really not believable, and the short stories interlaced throughout were distracting. They did serve a purpose in giving insight into how Rick was thinking/feeling, but I think it could have been done much more effectively. The narrator was ok in this one. A few of the voices he did were off as to how I had them in my head, but he wasn't monotonous to listen to and he did use voices to help differentiate who was talking. A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. This is not a paid review and is a truthful and honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago