So. I finished DFW’s Broom of the System last night (by a crackling fire to boot) and I am not quite sure how I feel about it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it immensely.DFW’s full range of wit and verbal pyrotechnics never fail to surprise and delight and his well humane passion seems bottomless. Many themes which come to fruition in Infinite Jest are on display in Broom of the System, and like his magnum opus, there are moments of apocalyptic silliness- the moments that would be just too brutal if they were not in fact hilarious. And I guess that’s what I love about DFW. Humor is never at anyone else’s expense. DFW is funny because he is human and human life is pretty funny. He was a humanist in the richest sense, and his boundless- if at times excessive- passion for the human ability to make sense, or attempt sense making, of the world illuminates his novels. Particularly in this case. Language and narrative are fact a subjects of the novel. The binary pair of Rick Vigorous and Lenore Beardsmen- comically linked in DFW’s eschatological climax- both talk too much and not enough. They attempt to fashion a romance in entirely verbal terms. Enter Andrew SealanderLang whose nickname ‘Wang-Dang Lang’ magnifies his extra-linguistic prowess. Lang and his estranged wife/Rick’s longtime Lolita-ish crush, exert a raw, physical, pressure over Rick and Lenore. Ultimately the Broom of the System is about making meaning, I think. Its conclusion is not conclusive. Important events often take place off stage. Basically life happens. Still, though, Broom of the System does not, at least in my mind, reach the stratospheric heights of Infinite Jest. This is, I suppose, not actually a critique of the former as much as praise of the latter.
NB: External pressures also shape our readings of Broom of the System. It’s penultimate moment, its climax, ‘The Night of Fire,’ occurs on September 11. But this does not actually mean anything at all. The book was written in 1987.