Monday, April 19, 2010

Cleaning out the House, or It Is All Interrelated and Interconnected

In The Broom of the System, David Foster Wallace sweeps aside any misconceptions about precisely just how screwed up this entire world is, and really, how much would it be worth saving this one, or should we just brush it off to the side and start up from some previous option?

For starters, The Broom of the System drops us in a slightly altered Cleveland, OH, where the phone switchboard console at the publishing firm Frequent & Vigorous has started channeling a number of phone calls all together. At the center of this mess of wires and misdirected phone calls is Leonore Beadsman, the daughter of baby food-tycoon Stonecipher Beadsman III. After a visit to the nursing home (bought, BTW, by the Beadsman clan) that Leonore's great-grandmother (also named Leonore) inhabits, Leonore the younger finds that her namesake--and a number of other patients/residents of the retirement facility--have seemingly vanished.

Add to this mix a strange brew of past coincidences, Leonore's jealous lover/employer Rick Vigorous (who has more penis envy because of his rather deficient member than Freud could ever imagine anybody having), Leonore's cockatiel Vlad the Impaler (who's rising to stardom on the evangelical TV scene because of a sudden penchant for spouting Christian messages that contain amusing double entendres), and a slew of clever yet witty philosophical references and a number of sharp jabs at the BS of psychoanalysis, and you might have used The Broom of the System to scrape all the insanity of this hyperrealist novel into the proverbial dustpan, for our--that is, the readers'--inspection.

And have I mentioned that Ohio has a desert in this novel? Yes--the Great Ohio Desert, referred to by the acronym "G.O.D." And East Corinth, OH--where Leonore lives--has a streetplan that looks like Jayne Mansfield.

Wallace drops us into a veritable wasteland of details, of overlapping stories that are often over the top but blisteringly relevant to the reality of the narrative. But so too are these flurries of activity that tire, exhaust, and frustrate Leonore as she sifts through the seemingly unrelated detritus of a dozen lives. Leonore discovers, in the process, that there's something quite seriously off-kilter about the whole layout of things, at least as her life is currently situated. It's not until she steps above her circumstances, sees through the sand, and looks down onto her own life, a little distanced from it, that she can observe precisely how all of these things--like the East Corinth streets--are situated to show us who or maybe what Leonore Beadsman is or isn't.

Upon observing that, upon choosing a different life path, things can finally start over again.

Wallace, David Foster. The Broom of the System. Viking-Penguin. Paperback/$16.00. 467 pp.


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