Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I accidentally left my shoulder bag at the Asian grocery across the street when I was buying tofu tonight, and I didn't realize it and go retrieve the bag for a couple of hours . . . which was enough to convince me that I can't really blog about Nicholson Baker's new novel House of Holes: A Book of Raunch, because as I was jaywalking my way back to my bag, what was running through my head was, "Please don't let them have looked in it. Please don't let them have looked in it. Please don't let them have looked in it." Because House of Holes was one of the books I'd been carrying today.

As others have already alerted you, if you're one to attend to book news, House of Holes is unapologetically a book of porn. Sam Anderson calls it "a porny Alice in Wonderland." Charles McGrath calls it "a blue-flaring plume of smut-talk." (Apparently the Times style guide calls for "smut-talk" to be hyphenated. Now we know.) And while this blog is unabashedly a fan of, and occasional home to, swearing of nearly all sorts (look closely at this post if you don't believe me), it does not generally take notice of the bluer reachers of our literasphere.

Then there's the fact that, frankly, I don't know what to make of it. I love Baker--love his prose, love his goofy mind, love his utter shamelessness. And Baker's written porn before, in Vox and its better successor, The Fermata. But in those books--particularly the sometimes disturbing latter--the pornographic sequences were part of a larger narrative centered in characters, ideas, and ways of thinking about human (and gender) relations in our era. Here . . . they're just, well, porn.

But that's not fair. The'yre not just porn. Baker's too good a writer of sentences and too humane and intelligent a person for that. The charge against porn is that it's reductive and degrading; Baker's porn is reductive and . . . celebratory? Innocent? Loving? At its best, House of Holes is simultaneously hot, ridiculous, charming, silly, elegant, and inventive. As Baker piles on the ideas--Masturboats, the Porndecahedron, and more inventions whose names I refuse to type--at times his wildly creative prurience offers shades of the lighter Calvino, of a mind choosing carefully among finite permutations and making of them something new.

And House of Holes also has value, for fans of slang, as a poorly organized glossary of creative names for actions and organs. A brief, highly edited list, sans definitions, in deference my online prudishness:
prune elevator
I'll stop there. You get the idea.

But where does that leave us? Honestly, I have very little idea at this point. If you've never read Baker, don't read this one; go get The Mezzanine, his unqualified masterpiece. If you love Baker, you're going to give this a try anyway, despite the fact that it's far from his best book. It's those who find themselves squishing around in the middle ground who are in question . . . and oh, I don't know what to tell you folks. Maybe see what you think the next time you pop up, wide awake, at midnight?

No comments:

Post a Comment