Friday, June 03, 2011

Nicholson Baker works blue once again

I feel I should begin this post with an apology, and perhaps a warning: as they say in the comedy business, I am, however temporarily, working blue here.

It's because of Nicholson Baker. Late this summer, Baker will publish a new novel, which would be a reason for joy no matter its content; Baker's novels, each sui generis, yet each affording what feels convincingly like communion with Baker's odd, hyperspace mind, are a sheer joy.

But this time, the anticipation is even greater, because of the book's title. Are you ready? (Have you made sure your boss isn't looking over your shoulder?) House of Holes: A Book of Raunch. Ahem.

Anyone who's read The Fermata, that magically ridiculous piece of porn masquerading as literature, knows that Baker can definitely work blue--and that he can do it without surrendering the Nabokovian sheen of his prose. The new book apparently offers more evidence of that skill: a couple of weeks ago Sam Anderson, on his Times blog The 6th Floor, selected two sentences from House of Holes among his five favorite sentences of that week . . . and then redacted them, calling them "too scatological for the 6th Floor blog."

Which brings me to another of Baker's best qualities: his utter shamelessness--and even more, the evident glee he takes in being shameless. There is no topic that is beneath him, no indignity to which he will not admit if it furthers the argument he's making or the story he's telling. Most of us, were we to come up with the idea of a man who's able to temporarily stop time, would quickly bury it once some of the more sordid possibilities began to emerge; Baker dove in and wrote a whole novel. Most of us, if we thought our psoriasis was an indicator of some essential affinity with John Updike, would pretend even to ourselves that we didn't actually believe it. Baker not only writes about it at length in U and I, he takes it one ridiculous, unnecessary step further:
When my psoriasis began to get bad, on the other hand, I welcomed its spread at first--I'd been worried that because the disease had shown up late in me (phase I involved only the scalp and penis) . . .
And, surprised anew, we laugh. Elsewhere in U and I is what is, to me at least, a much more startling confession:
I myself have never successfully masturbated to Updike's writing, though I have to certain remembered scenes in Iris Murdoch.
To which my response--and, I'm willing to proclaim, any sane response--is:

1. Eewww.
2. Really? Iris Murdoch? "Sex comes to most of us with a twist," indeed.
3. That "succesfully" in there. That's the brilliant bit, a little landmine of glee masquerading as straightforward explanation. If you wanted to shoot Baker's genius into space on the tiniest of rockets in order to give alien civilizations something a bit more down to earth to chew on than the high-culture bombast carried by Viking II, that one little word might almost suffice.

All of which makes me await House of Holes with bated breath. Which is better, I suppose, than heavy breathing.

1 comment:

  1. "If you wanted to shoot Baker's genius into space..." It sounds like Murdoch already did. Successfully.