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    'The Mezzanine' by Nicholson Baker
    Project: The Total Library
    This is a short book. Sounds good when I put it like that, doesn't it? However, much as its plot covers a short space of time, but is deceptively epic, the 100 or so pages are deceptively dense.

    Don't want to read all this? See it condensed in the comments of For the wannabe bookworm!

    I present four short items to introduce this novel to you. The first is the following short paragraph which should show what has lead me to recommend it.

    The Mezzanine approaches the intricacies of the everyday in such a way that its philosophical themes may be brought to mind as you go about your daily business long after you have read it. Perhaps forever. I don't know. So far, I have been going about six months, and still can't tie my shoelaces irreflectively. On the other hand, as will become clear shortly, it may offer you nothing at all. (If you have no soul!)

    The second and third items I present are the following two published responses to the novel, which I think are particularly informative when taken together.
    Faintly amusing for about ten pages then increasingly, numbingly dull: the moment-by-moment thoughts of a 25-ish office worker during his lunch hour—with an unabashed, verbose focus on the most trivial, everyday activities. The narrator's molasses-like stream-of-consciousness begins with the half-pint of milk he is carrying—which leads to a two-page footnote on the differences between paper straws and plastic straws. (Similarly ungainly asides are strewn throughout). The lunchtime purchase of shoelaces triggers meditations on broken laces, CVS stores, and socks. Soon there are memories of childhood shoe-typing—and other "major advances" in life: the day the narrator discovered that sweeping was fun; the day he ordered a rubber return-address stamp; and the day his "life as an adult" began, when, at 23, he figured out how to put on deodorant after being fully dressed. Then, when he rides an escalator, two chapters of escalator thoughts ensue, as the narration reaches new peaks of self-consciousness. ("So I want now to do two things: to set the escalator to the mezzaine against a clean mental background as something fine and worth my adult time to think about, and to state that while I did draw some large percentage of joy from the continuities that the adult escalator ride established with childhood escalators, I will try not to glide by on the reminiscential tone. . .") And there are also musings on ice-cube trays, Jiffy Pops, earplugs, vending machines, Marcus Aurelius, Disney cartoons, Penguin paperbacks, and—with a welcome bit of ribald energy—corporate bathrooms. (The narrator overcomes public-urinal embarrassment by "pretending to urinate on the other person's head.")

    (From Kirkus Reviews - first review on Google Books)

    And the other:
    Everyone who read Nicholson Baker's marvelous first novel, ''The Mezzanine,'' wondered what he could possibly do for an encore. Packed with fascinatingly digressive footnotes on everything from the shape of staplers to the buoyancy of straws, ''The Mezzanine'' was a brief, Swiftian, Proustian tale about a seemingly unremarkable lunch hour in the life of a big-city office worker, as well as an impressively precise commentary on the nature of memory, the esthetics of industrial design, the boredom of white-collar work and the sources of life's small, sustaining pleasures. It was a whole book seemingly made up of the best parts of Updike, those moments of acutely described visceral perception that remind us what it's like to live in late-20th-centuryJU America.

    (From the New York Times - fourth review on Google Books)

    My final point of reference for you is my own mentions of The Mezzanine in a post I just wrote.
    I was a little disappointed to discover, in conversation with Dad, that our thing-in-common was not as in-common as I had thought. For instance, he had never read a favourite section of mine. It was the two-page footnote imagining microscopic explorers investigating up-close the histories of erosion of the grooves in records, and then comparing them to the findings from a different miniaturised expedition into the grooves left behind in ice by skates. He had not read it, he said, because his attention had been too strongly bound by the relaying, in another two-page footnote, of stapler designers' decades-long, slavish following of locomotive form factors, which they reproduced in functional officeware precisely and consistently twenty years behind the fashions of the trainyard. (That is to say that 1960s staplers are shaped like 1940s trains, and 1970s staplers are shaped like 1950s trains, and so on.)

    (From my Nicholson Baker on Wikipedia)

    I hope the above bits serve as a nice introduction to a wonderful novel which is easily as enlightening as you allow it to be. Strangely, I think its appeal is best captured by the first review I showed. If the author of that review thought he had pinpointed the failings of The Mezzanine, then there is surely no way to turn him around on the matter.

    See also my super-abridgment in For the wannabe bookworm in The Total Library.

    Thu, Apr 10, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: Books, Nicholson Baker
    Sent to project: The Total Library
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