The Broom of the System

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The Broom was DFW’s first novel, published by Little & Brown in 1987, while he completed a MFA in creative writing at the University of Arizona. He was twenty-four years old. It was originally submitted by DFW as one of two undergraduate honors theses presented at Amherst College. The Broom of the System was submitted to the Department of English; the other thesis was submitted to the Department of Philosophy.

According to D.T. Max, DFW’s biographer, the idea for the novel came from contemplation of something an old girlfriend had once said: that “she would rather be a character in a piece of fiction that a real person”.

Wallace himself alluded to the novel’s autobiographical nature, describing it as ‘the sensitive tale of a sensitive young WASP who’s just had this midlife crisis that’s moved him from coldly cerebral analytic math to a coldly cerebral take on fiction . . . which also shifted his existential dread from a fear that he was just a 98.6°F calculating machine to a fear that he was nothing but a linguistic construct. . . . And, sufficiently hidden under the . . . the gags and theoretical allusions, I got to write my sensitive little self-obsessed bildungsroman.”

Reading Resources

Reviews and Essays

Published Under Different Titles

  • “Mr. Costigan in May”. Clarion, Spring. 1985.
    An earlier work that became part of The Broom of the System.
  • “Inside”. The Amherst Review, Vol. 13, 1985.
    An earlier work that became the first chapter of The Broom of the System. There isn’t much difference between the two versions.