To give a little more context for Lady Chatterley’s Brother–which you all should pre-order right now–I’m going to reset Barrett’s essay on Nicholson Baker from Issue 21 of The Quarterly Conversation. Though Barrett doesn’t have much regard for Baker’s sex writing, he is a huge Baker fan (which is part of what makes his essay in LCB so interesting).
You can see that in the essay he wrote for TQC 21, where he argued that Baker is a sort of missing link in American letters between John Updike and David Foster Wallace. In fact, the essay begins:
Nicholson Baker is the missing link between John Updike and David Foster Wallace.
There, finally, I’ve said it—a proclamation so reductive and problematic, yet so rich with implication and reverberation, that I cannot resist saying it over and over again: if Updike marks one end of the post-war American prose spectrum and Wallace the other, Baker would represent a midpoint.
It would be easy to counterpoint Wallace and Updike, even if Wallace hadn’t already issued his Oedipal takedown in his essay “Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think,” . . .
He has quite a different take in Lady Chatterley’s Brother:
I don’t come to Baker’s latest, most sexually inflammatory novel as a novice. I have read all of his other work and I have written approvingly about him on multiple occasions. In fact, last year in The Quarterly Conversation I asserted that Baker was a kind of missing artistic link between John Updike and David Foster Wallace in the particular way he wrote about life at the close of the twentieth century. By extension, I argued that he was a major American writer who should be regarded as such. Part of the impetus for such an essay was my worry that Baker was thought of too often as contemporary literature’s crazy uncle, and not as the highly influential, steady, mid-career, confident presence that he actually is.
But now comes this book. In that long, defensive, applause-busy essay I did not mention his two previous sex novels, Vox and The Fermata, because I didn’t think they were very good, and I had hoped that they marked some transitional adolescent aesthetic phase he underwent, after which he returned home much more mature and developed, more appreciative of his parents and all they’d sacrificed for him, and ready to make hay with his initial prodigal promise, etc
Remember, if you pre-order this week, I’m entering you into a drawing for a box of awesome books that no longer fit on my shelves.
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