Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nicholson Baker: The Mezzanine


Who would have thought that a 133-page book that seems to be about a trip up an escalator could be so engaging? The unique and engaging aspect of Baker's novel is the attention his protagonist (he does have a name, but it is only mentioned once and is not important to the book) pays to the minutae of life - the effects of shoelace wear, the sound a button makes as it is fastened, the contagious nature of whistling. The whole book is one long tangent, filled with footnotes and observations that are all interrelated. Baker has taken the time to detail thoughts that most of us have probably had from time to time. This makes reading these small details feel very familiar.

The number of footnotes Baker includes is unusual (he adds tangents to tangents!), but this, again, is no ordinary piece of writing. It is more of a combination of fiction, philosophy, and diary than a novel. There is no real story except for the trip up the escalator. The only complaint is that, when describing a pose, Baker describes it as being "the pose of George Washington crossing the Potomac." I'm a stickler for accuracy, and this gnaws at me. Other than that, though, this is a wonderful book.

A.

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