Loads of Learned Lumber

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nicholson Baker, _House of Holes_

I LOOKED UP "Nicholson Baker" on Wikipedia--one of the many topics on which Baker has written wittily, informatively, and thoughtfully--to find out how long it has been since The Fermata, his last work in smut-meistership before House of Holes. The Fermata, it turns out, was published in 1994--seventeen years, then, between that and this. My guess: the kids are grown up, off at college, and there has been an erotic renaissance at the Baker-Brentano household.

Vox was (arguably) realistic; The Fermata was, like Kafka's Metamorphosis, realistic once you granted its one impossible premise; House of Holes is pretty much all-out fantasy.  It's a kind of erotic utopia-slash-theme park that you get to, like Alice's Wonderland, through holes.  Just about anything goes, just about anything is possible, but there are fees.  Keeps out the riff-raff, no doubt.

The book's structure is fairly loose and episodic; there are some plot lines followed through the book, and we see most of the characters more than once, but the chapters could easily be read independently.  In each chapter, at least one fantasy is enacted, and at least one character has an orgasm.

Baker's eroto-topia is cheerful, even buoyant, well-scrubbed; its participants articulate, educated, polite, ready to have fun but considerate and unselfish. Everything is consensual, and while a certain amount of objectification is unavoidable, it's kept to a minimum, and pains are taken that no one's feelings get hurt.

How odd is it that this book appeared at virtually the same time that the shades-of-gray books were taking the eroticization of pain, humiliation, fear, and shame mainstream, and in doing so enjoying sales previously matched only by fictional teenage wizards and vampires?

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