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The Broom of the Systemby David Foster Wallace
Synopses & Reviews
The first novel by David Foster Wallace, author of the national bestseller Infinite Jest, is vibrantly republished.
The mysterious disappearance of her great-grandmother and 25 other elderly inmates from a nursing home has left Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman emotionally stranded on the edge of the Great Ohio Desert. But that is simply one problem of many for the hapless switchboard operator — compounded by her ongoing affair with her boss, the impending TV stardom of her talking cockatiel, and similar small catastrophes that threaten to elevate Lenore's search for love and self-determination to new heights of spasmodic weirdness.
"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
"Dazzling...exhilarating...bizarre...sweepingly successful...engaging and haunting...a remarkable book with a lot of prestidigitation in it....Wallace's talent is consistently impressive." San Francisco Chronicle
"Wallace makes it all come together as a unified vision of inspired madness. This is Wallace's first novel. God help us all when he gets some practice." Orson Scott Card, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
The mysterious disappearance of her great-grandmother and 25 other elderly residents of a nursing home only compounds the small catastrophes that threaten to elevate Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman's search for love and self-determination to new heights of spasmodic weirdness.
Published when 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.
Hilarious and wildly inventive, this novel by the author of The Girl With Curious Hair takes off where reality ends, as its protagonist, switchboard operator Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, is inundated with more than the usual share of unusual problems.
A skillful re-conception of the old poetic form the aisling,—literally meaning “dream vision” or “vision-poem”—An Dantomine Eerly follows the recollections of the Irish-American poet Dallin as he makes his passage into death. Along with his wife Aìsling, the two flee an obscure political persecution which leads to her graphic, planned murder. His inner conflict reigns, and the impact of Aìsling’s death afflicts a lone Dallin in ways he cannot comprehend, spiraling him headlong into his own death and his meeting with the mythic celestial escort, An Dantomine Eerly.
(Excerpt taken from Part One of An Dantomine Eerly)
FROM THE EARLIEST TIME I wanted to push my whole face deep into my eyes and sleep eternally in the womb of my mind, images of our world fading from sight and memory. Instead, there were these endless symphonies composed only of sirens that surrounded me from all around. Though this pained me, I slowly learned to spend myself with the currency of their silences. It was poetry, really, that brought me from the ruthless perturbations of that which emerges and that which fades to the orchestral mystery of the inner globules and the outer worlds, revealing, within all that screaming, the order beneath it.
Down on the earth, on some world Avenue, I was late for an obligation. If I had checked I would’ve learned that I was in fact early. Early for a feast. That sounds quite decadent, don’t you think?
The aesthetic crimes of neon-signs and halogen beamed their bath-confessionals from the vacant sides of liquor store lots, gas stations, and, farther up in the distance, the sky-world of highway crossbridges, off-ramp dining holes, and worn out truckstops. The hazy illuminations sank dusk into the ground the way pins and roofing nails tack bedsheets to crackhouse windows. And when I happened to slide down into those tubs of yellow-gray light the continuing symptoms of the womb-of-mind sleep that by birth had already been denied me began to surge, to circle and ensnare, to pull at my unknowing that lay somewhere beneath my skin, urging me to squeeze my whole self into tiny holes poked through the most worn out parts of my anus and knees, hoping I’d spray out onto the pavement or at least dribble off into the street. “Either way,” I thought, “relinquish yourself to eternity, or flee into the falseness that lay ahead.”
My face turned from the side streets, and with the last of the light smoldering down across the detritus of that scene, I prepared and became the change to evening. A settling darkness that begot the concrete avenues, billboard faces, distorted smiles blown out by the murder-light, the whole rotting idea of town; the gray dream. Where night had settled lightly I arrived, and stood before a deco façade, apparently, for a meal, and if I could’ve torn through the fabric of that street right then, walk through it—not on it, as we do the air—to disappear and spill out on another paper-thin side of perception, believe me I would have, but many things still blocked me from such a passage.
The oak doors opened with relative ease, though they were heavy. Inside, climbing the dark stairwell in the one-sided tinge of old copper lanterns, I reached the second floor. Dust demurred between blue wall and open corridor, and through it, down the other end, more glowing copper pieces and other ornaments arose, casting a whip of shadow off lapping light out across the deep recesses of the hall. When I walked into the foyer, approaching the door, a house maid arrived meagerly in the door frame. Her head was faced down, and she pulled a silver circle from the white fold of her apron, checking her timepiece. She glanced back a furtive and disapproving look. “Can I not come in?” I asked her quietly, moving with courtesy toward the door, when she stepped in front of me, skirt hem swaying at the fronts of her knees, saying to me: “No, goddon’tyouhaveanysensewiththesekindsof things?” Hesitant. “May I sit and wait then?” She nodded toward a bench against the wall, then vanished.
Sitting there, other guests arrived. I heard them come through the downstairs foyer, then almost instantly up the stairs. Each of them passed by me and brought with them Ghosts, like cloaks, through the large apartment door; and when their coats were taken they were greeted and shown inside. Hurriedly! While I sat there, fastened to a weight! They all wore these cloaks. Some were heavy and coarse, some light, over-worn linen, some shined from within like lamp lights, some were dimmed with the assurance of beliefs, and some trembled from the coward cowered body that curled underneath. Only after they had all come through was I called for, not by name, but by the glare of the churlish maid who saw me seated still on the bench through the empty passageway. She held open the door, perfumed with an odious sentiment (I smelled it as I passed, a piss, a brine), and proceeding again through another narrow corridor I entered through the main room where I headed straight for my seat at the end.
The cloaked guests sat facing their plates, ready to feast at the long table in the center of the room, draped in red. Walking along the length of it, I caught their faint hands nervously slipping underneath the blood colored cloth, saw their thin lips lather, they hunched over the table as packs of black-leather junkies would crouch over the thick thighs of a porcine whore laid out before them, newly dead, still wet with sweat but her plumbing dry, ready for the spit of the angels to ease along her last impossible offering. Passing that, I sat, unsure of the guests, why I was there, and what type of order I was in danger of disrupting.
Upon the table, bowls, plates, and glasses spread around an enormous platter of silver, filled to its brim with pounds of meat. There were shrimp, salads, pastas, peppers, vin du Rhône, Bordeaux, pinot, grapes, berries, nuts, beans, corn, mushrooms stuffed with peppered crab, assorted breads. As well laid the appropriate cutleries: knives, forks, spoons, the assorted picks, hooks, scalpels, cleavers, clamps, and the odd personal effects of our guests whom are preferred for their cunning in dismemberment, sure, but are also, I am told, rife with sporty talk and tasteful presence! There were laughs! Unsettling laughs, rapacious, reputable. I took from the platter and reached into warm bowls, filling my plate quickly. I started to eat and became dizzy, forgetting everything that had happened before it.
Gulped down glasses of wine in between sampling and shoveling the food, then a break, to pour again the swirling red from the bottle, burying my face deep in the glass. The wine began to take effect; it reached into the various corners of my body. The wreck of dialogue converged along pre-disposed lines of contact and rose in a cloud from the center of the table, up, and outwards, causing the dust to dance in the chandelier and lamp light. “Who are these people?” was a question that churned continuously in the back of my mind. There was dust, the smell of tobacco and liquor, hurt lovers, wild-eye. . . . Their mouths moved, but oceans crashed and landscapes erupted slowly; I didn’t even know what language they were speaking. No matter. I heard tanks plowing through tree lines, satyrian gut-speak, I wasn’t about to let it make me meek. Scanned their features, each face in a cage of negative space, forming and emerged, only slightly. . . . So, I downed more wine, and the abstract clamor continued. The dark carnival commenced.
Night draped depthless sheets in the tall windows lining the open room. The metabolism of the conversation was quickening, diverging, and re-convening, and that same laughter grew louder, in tide-rhythm. Some had stopped, but I kept on eating, pulling new gifts from the cornucopia. In fact, in all truth, my chewing and sipping had kept me from hearing too clearly what came from whom and how they got to where they were, both in their own lives and the life of their banter. Opportune to speak I poised, then passed, and then poised again, when something caught my attention, . . . the kerned, purple perianths of many loose violets dotted the rim of the silver platter. I backed my chair out and my glass sloshed as I stood at the helm of the table, peering across. “Are those fucking violets?” I yelled. The sounds from every mouth that clouded the table and engulfed the room ceased. Immediately, a wine cramp stung my brain and the entire back of my head burned as the torrent of me breathing again tore through the silence.
“. . . well, they must’ve eaten quickly,” I thought. All of the plates were there, shining and untouched. Silverware gleamed in respective placements, aligned on rows of white napkins, next to clear glasses. The central platter was clean and void of meat. Nothing moved, no guts sucked in, poked out, no bodies were growing full, and, to be sure, no violets. From the long wood table, the empty bowls and bare trays, fresh laid plates, and the big platter, I sat compromised in silence. The corral had gone, seemingly, at the moment of my mere utterance. It was strange, perceiving myself from without. The more I viewed that bare table and the pristine accoutrements the more they stretched out and pushed themselves in, becoming portraits of themselves. The more I approached the surrounding details they emerged from obscure to precise and the movement of this approach, the gazing flight down long planes and around round corners, accelerated and could not hold that precision which was occurring, itself further obscured by the arbitrariness of all its definition. It was this, myself stretched so thin, that fled away, until all movement snapped back into my very own stillness. There I was, blood through the body, electric fingers scintillated by the flow of an unseen river, still and in flight, frantic and calm, within annihilation, yet whole, budding with negation, unbecoming my own assumption. At a table, a chair, and in that chair, a figure, and in that figure?
Published when 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.
An Dantomine Eerly follows the last recollections of the Irish-American poet Dallin, as the mythic celestial escort, An Dantomine Eerly, ushers him into death. Written in dazzling poetic prose, current readers of fiction will appreciate an engaging, original read and the rewards of a visionary debut author.
About the Author
David Foster Wallace is the author of Infinite Jest, The Girl with Curious Hair, and A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. His nonfiction has appeared in Harper's, Premiere, and Tennis. His stories have been published in The New Yorker, Playboy, Harper's, Paris Review, and Conjunctions. David Foster Wallace has won a Whiting Award, two NEA grants, and a fellowship at Yaddo. He lives in Bloomington, Illinois.
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