About Nicholson Baker: Born in 1957, Baker is an American novelist and essayist. His fiction generally de-emphasizes narrative in favor of careful description and characterization. His early novels include The Mezzanine and Room Temperature and were distinguished by their minute inspection of his characters’ stream of consciousness. Out of a total of ten novels, three are erotica: Vox, The Fermata, and House of Holes.
Baker’s nonfiction includes a book about his relationship with John Updike, U and I: A True Story, which was published in 1991. He created the American Newspaper Repository in 1999. He then wrote about the American library system in his 2001 nonfiction book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. Fueled by his pacifism, he wrote Human Smoke about the buildup to World War II.
George Salis picks up the vintage phone and dials D for Dirty Don DeLillo & a Dash of DFW (Dick-Filled Whopper).
“‘My clitoris is duplicitous…’”
“While not as hyper-attuned to the vagaries and truncated paradoxes of quotidian speech as DeLillo’s The Body Artist, say, Baker’s Vox manages to create a run-on exchange between a man and woman that’s plausible even as it edges the borderline improbable—in that sense fluctuating between vox populi and vox Dei (a dastardly deity that). From meditating on the implications of a song fadeout versus the old-school trend of ending on a single cord to fantasizing about cleaning a windshield with one’s breasts, the voices complement and connect to each other via confessions, confabulations (sometimes collaborative), and a collection of other cerebrations that might otherwise never be vocalized, so the reader becomes an eager or de rigueur eavesdropper (depending on your disposition), peering up the hole of Eve’s dropper to glimpse, among the human deposits of dung on the constricting walls, far flashes of light, the permeating brain in all its mushy glory, nearly numinous in its vulnerability,” George says.
“So yes,” George continues, “almost the entire novel is made of dialogue between two characters who meet on a sex hotline, which puts it in a loquacious category that includes William Gaddis’ J R and Philip Roth’s Deception, among others.”
“I want the books to be about things that you don’t notice when you’re noticing them,” Baker told NPR in an interview in 2003. “You kind of notice things in passing, and never put a frame around them—and then somebody like me comes along and writes a book about them. And then that book itself becomes the frame.”
George nods and confirms the author’s self-analysis, “Things you never thought before or never thought you thought before, that somehow make sense on an inexplicably nonsensical level, inexplicable until now, that is, explained as they are by Baker and his contemporaries, essentially DeLillo’s entire oeuvre and a majority of DFW’s, but somehow I’m thinking even more so of Wallace’s story “All That” if not other scenes within The Pale King, probably spurred by a moment in Vox in which the female voice is telling about a toy telephone she uses to play with a child and how there’s a semi-mysticism to the device that the child believes in wholeheartedly of course, but she and other adults are affected by it too.”
“‘…as soon as I opened my mouth the cock of the man underneath me slid right inside, so all I could do was hum, and then all three of them came in me, one right after another, first the one in my mouth, surprisingly enough, then the one in my pussy, then finally the one in my ass.’”
George tucks it under the waistband and adds, “The erotica, which many would categorize as strange if not outright deviant, is never abandoned for the mundane, only built upon, charged with each tentative then confident syllable, as if you almost knew that the novel would eventually end with a future conditional sex scene, also labored-breathing collaborative.”
“For some animal magnetism reason,” George confesses, “I’ve been finding what you might call postmodern erotica in my purview and full-frontal view. The nude prelude was Robert Coover’s Spanking the Maid last year and then all of a sudden I obtained William H. Gass’ Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife and Lee Siegel’s Typerotica. Most recently, during my last two book-hunting trips, I found a copy of Mario Vargas Llosa’s In Praise of the Stepmother, which I have yet to read, and then two Baker books, Vox and Fermata, the latter I also have yet to read. Spurred by this alignment of the (porn) stars, I wanted to seek out some pomo erotica by women writers, so I read the all-around terrible Lifting Belly long poem by Gertrude Stein and, aside from Marian Engel’s Bear being in my furry purview, I have one other on my list: The Mirror in the Well by Micheline Aharonian Marcom, which sounds quite promising. Due to their postmodern sensibilities, the ones I’ve read aren’t erotic as such but use sex in all its purring permutations as windows onto language and more. If you’re just looking to get aroused but still want to read something that’s capital L Literature, then Vox is your best bet because it’s the most salacious and detailed in its fantasies.”
On a conclusive note, George says, “Aside from the genre in general, I’ll definitely be reading more Baker.”
Editor’s note: The aim of Invisible Books is to shine a light on wrongly neglected and forgotten books and their authors. To help bring more attention to these works of art, please share this article on social media. For early access to literary content like this and other awesome benefits, consider supporting The Collidescope on Patreon.
George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.