Author David Foster Wallace
Released: 1987

You have a lot of literary history and anxiety about influence to get out from under as a young writer penning a first novel. Because of this, debuts often feel clunky. This feeling becomes even more pronounced in hindsight, after the writer matures into something idiosyncratic and brilliant.

American genius David Foster Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System, wears his love for the postmodern greats—Thomas Pynchon, especially—like a Boy Scout achievement badge. The threads of the knotty story of Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, telephone operator, wind their way around a variety of Wittegenstein-inspired language games. Language is the chief concern, though there’s time for a retirement home uprising and a talking cockatiel. This is maximalism, remember—there’s time for everything.

Wallace never abandoned his everything-all-of-the-time approach, but he did get better with each book, growing as an artist by working to define the purpose of fiction for human beings. Read his essay collections and then tackle Infinite Jest—the world will never seem brighter. —Ross Scarano