House of Holes

The new Nicholson Baker novel (or rather “book of raunch”) sounds good, but ultimately, bad. The B&N Review:

This can’t be called a failure, though. Apart from the sex and the fantasy, House of Holes never meant to have anything in common with The Fermata. The latter is a novel, one whose full-blooded narrator, Arno Strine, struggles with complex emotions and desires as he abuses his power over time. House of Holes is no novel. It announces its impure intentions right on the cover: This is raunch. The characters are cartoons, their exchanges—at once deadpan and overwrought—a spoof of porno movie dialogue and a foil for the dizzying absurdity of Baker’s sexual scenarios.

Structurally, the book is simple: A succession of men and women find their way, through various bizarre apertures—e.g., a laundromat dryer—to an anything-goes sexual Wonderland called the House of Holes. Like The Fermata, this smacks of science fiction. In the opening scene, a woman named Shandee is visiting a quarry with her Geology 101 class. There she finds a hand attached to a forearm, which signs its way into her handbag. She gives the arm, which is anything but dead, a notepad. The hand writes, “Please…feed me some mashed-up fish food in an electrolyte solution.” The arm “had a solar panel for energy.” We learn that it once belonged to a certain “Dave” . . .

Personally, I think “house of holes” is trying way too hard . . .

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I think we need to hear what you mean by saying it’s trying way too hard…

The B & N review is pretty myopic — written, it seems, in complete ignorance of a pretty broad tradition of absurdist writing about sex from Sade to F.T. Marinetti. Even the opening scene here of the arm is a pretty clear allusion to Kawabata’s famous story “One Arm.”

House of Holes references a pretty wide range of stuff. On the one hand, you get everything from Through the Looking Glass to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. On the other, it’s steeped in utopian literature, referencing Fourier (specifically it’s sexual phalansteries…), to Owen’s utopian experiments at New Harmony, Indiana, to Chandigarh, India, designed by utopian architect Le Corbusier.

To say it has “impure intentions” is to say a whole lot more about yourself than the book.

I haven’t read the new one yet, but I love Nicholson Baker and consider him hugely underrated. Probably because — vis-a-vis someone like DFW — Baker has always been an outsider, a nerd and something of a soft iconoclast, forever challenging the conventional wisdom about subjects such as the storage strategy of our nation’s libraries, the nature and necessity of the march to WWII, even the career trajectory a “serious” novelist ought to have in the American literary establishment. I’m a huge fan of THE MEZZANINE and of just about every essay/nonfiction article Baker’s ever written. And I’m grateful that he’s able to muster the energy for the occasional dirty book or raving mad polemic like CHECKPOINT. How many other mild-mannered New Yorker magazine types have ever written something that’s prompted a Secret Service investigation?


The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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