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May 31, 2013

Ruminations on DFW


Hello, faithful readers. It is I, Anthony Landi: behind-the-scenes puller-of-strings and Sancho Panza to 20SomethingReads' Don Quixjote. Despite my frequent involvement with the site (and with the rest of The Book Report Network sites), I believe this is the first blog post I've contributed besides the one or two reviews I've done in the past.

What I'm here to discuss is my infatuation with a novel I've just finished, THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM, written by the late David Foster Wallace. Now, I pride myself on trying to find the best novels around, digging deeper than your typical book store-goer (not that there's anything wrong with reading what's popular). I came across this novel in particular on the recommendation of a friend who declared DFW was one of the better novelists in recent times. Naturally, I had to check him out.

The story follows Lenore Beadsman, a switchboard operator, as she tries to tackle three separate problems in her life: the disappearance of her great-grandmother, her neurotic boyfriend who also happens to be her boss, and her cockatiel that can regurgitate just about anything it's told (especially particularly obscene language). The rotating cast of characters that come into and out of the novel, cross paths and interact, are all unforgettable --- there's the overbearing Judith Prietht (a play on the metal band's name), the owner of her office building Mr. Bombardini (a man who aims to grow to infinite size) and her lascivious, gold-digging roommate Candy Mandible.

What I was confronted with when I read this novel was an inventive, challenging yet hilarious story, told from a myriad of perspectives and styles. The story's teller is constantly changing, from an omniscient snarky narrator, to shrink-appointment transcripts, to submissions to the publishing firm she works at, to name just a few. David Foster Wallace's language is unbelievably witty, his sense of description just off-kilter and his use of dialogue incredibly tactful.

There also runs a strong current of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's theories in each branch of Lenore's issues, especially the thinker's obsession with language and the way it influences just about everything. Really wild stuff.

It's true, Foster Wallace was in fact a rare talent. This book comes highly recommended for anyone willing to keep up with an entertaining, albeit bizarre, novel fractured by frequent jumps in perspective and crazy, absurdist turns.