Friday, August 27, 2010

The Mezzanine
The Mezzanine

by Nicholson Baker

"the problem with reading: you always had to pick up again at the very thing that made you stop reading the day before." (p 121)

Nicholson Baker's novels are examples of of trying to imbue the minute trivialities of modern life with unseen philosophical and personal significance. Exhibiting an affinity for minutiae and ponderous disquisition, he is noted for transforming otherwise banal human activities into finely wrought descriptions of thought and serious consideration. His technique of extreme magnification and loitering contemplation has been described as creating a “clogging” effect in his fiction, thus slowing narrative time to a near standstill while retraining the reader's attention on otherwise overlooked objects and minor events, all presented through Baker's scrupulous authorial subjectivity. The effect of this in The Mezzanine, an essentially plotless, stream-of-consciousness novel, which examines in great detail the lunch-hour activities of a young office worker named Howie is bracing for about two pages. His simple lunch—a hot dog, cookie, and milk—and purchase of a new pair of shoelaces are juxtaposed against his reading of a paperback edition of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. Baker's digressive novel contains copious footnotes, some of which are several pages long, while following the ruminations of Howie as he contemplates a variety of everyday objects and occurrences, including how paper milk cartons replaced glass milk bottles, the miracle of perforation, and the nature of plastic straws, vending machines, paper towel dispensers, and popcorn poppers. That he would take more than eighty per cent of the novel to reach his epiphany from a random passage in the Meditations, which lasts less than a page before he returns to memories of cookies and milk as a youth, gives you some idea of the misadventure that this slight novel encompasses. The author's hubris at thinking that his disquisition on drinking straws and shoelaces constitutes a novel of humor or ideas or anything else is merely a symptom of the artistic morass of literature at the end of the twentieth century.

The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker. Vintage Books, New York. 1990

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