Times are tough for readers looking for the latest evolution of literary romance. The well-known nuances of modern love stories fit neatly into little predictable boxes: boy falls in love with quirky girl, boy chases girl, boy gets girl, and their journey for utterly perfect, ostensibly unattainable “true love” bores the audience the whole way. Romance in prose has regressed from the 20th century’s refreshing Modern and Postmodern interpretations, leaving unsatisfying beach reads and paranormal young-adult fiction in its wake. In desperation for some original romantic content, we look to the not-so-distant past– specifically, to 1987’s The Broom of the System, the debut novel by David Foster Wallace.
Favorite Reads: The Broom of the System
In this creative and unorthodox tale, Lenore Beadsman, an emotionally challenged 24-year-old switchboard operator, finds herself faced with three intimidating hurdles to overcome: the escape of her grandmother from her nursing home, her pet cockatiel suddenly spouting religious gospel, and her overbearing boyfriend, Rick Vigorous. Rick, when he’s not obsessing over Lenore, dedicates himself to his ongoing manuscript–a sugary-sweet romance much more idyllic than his actual love life. The story features a cast of characters at once hilarious and heartbreaking, including a loud-and-proud Texan named Andrew Lang and an impossibly obese CEO named Norman Bombardini.
Part of what makes Broom such a successful love story is that love itself is not the core of the narrative; Wallace instead focuses on each character’s individual problems and lets the unorthodox romance between Rick and Lenore unravel organically. The novel weaves in and out of different styles, jumping from traditional narrative to screenplay to a transcript from a session with Rick’s therapist.
The Broom of the System doesn’t bother with the fluff and fantasy of unrealistic love stories. The book acknowledges its characters as complex figures with individual problems and unique flaws–as relatable people trying to find themselves and fall in love along the way.