BAKER, Nicholson (born 1957) US writer The minutiae of life, the tiny details that form the background to most fiction, are brought into the foreground in the early novels of Nicholson Baker. Little happens in a conventional narrative sense but the reader’s interest is held by Baker’s playfulness with language, his odd, oblique observations and his digressions. In Room Temperature the novel’s only action (if that is the right word) is the feeding of a baby. The Mezzanine centres on the short escalator journey of an office worker to the floor on which he works. This makes the books sound dull and they are anything but. They are short books and Baker crams them with the most extraordinary, offbeat information and speculation, often contained in elaborate footnotes in which the word count substantially outmatches that in the main text. After his early novels, Baker gained a certain notoriety by turning his obsessive attention to sex. Vox, explicitly detailed about the delights of telephone sex, was followed by The Fermata. Some readers will find Baker’s knowing ironies and reflections, his stream of consciousness for the designer-label generation deeply irritating. Others will be beguiled by his wit, the attention he gives to the everyday and the way books like The Mezzanine and Room Temperature reveal the idle, insignificant internal monologues and debates we all conduct as we go about our lives.
THE FERMATA (1994)
This is the story of an office temp, Arno Strine, who has the ability to freeze time at the snap of his fingers. He uses this ability to explore erotic possibilities not otherwise available to him, undressing women at will, playing sexual practical jokes on those frozen. Attacked for misogyny by critics who seemed to mistake Baker’s views for those of his fictional character, The Fermata is actually a witty and clever analysis of the whole idea of pornography and the pornographic gaze, showing a subtle awareness of the issues involved which escaped most of his critics.
Baker’s other books (fiction and non-fiction) include U and I, The Size of Thoughts, The Everlasting Story of Nory, Double Fold, A Box of Matches (in which he returns to the obsessive scrutiny of ephemera that characterized his first books) and Checkpoint.
to The Fermata:
Will Self, Cock and Bull.
to Baker’s other fiction:
John Updike, Couples;
Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy;
Donald Antrim, The Hundred Brothers;
Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things.
Source Credits: Nick Rennison, Good Reading Guide: Discover Your Next Great Read, Bloomsbury Publishing, Seventh Edition