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The MEZZANINE by Nicholson Baker February 6, 2007

Posted by a Wristfister in Books, Fiction.
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Mezzanine

Published by: Weidenfeld & Nicholson [1988], softcover, 135 pages, ~$5 (second-hand)

Reviewed by: Bowie

Synopsis: Howie is an office worker in a Midwestern American city. He spends all morning working for a living, breaks his shoelace, chats with a co-worker, co-urinates successfully in a corporate setting, goes out to lunch, buys new shoelaces, sits on a sunny park bench reading the same sentence of a novel a couple of times, downs a cookie with a pint of milk, and walks back up to his office via an escalator in the mezzanine of his office building. That’s pretty much all that really happens, however, it would be misleading to suggest that there’s nothing more. The bulk of the book consists of the elaborate ramblings of Howie’s inner thoughts during these few hours of his day.

Review: Nicholson Baker’s work was suggested to me by a Reviewer on this site. Mezzanine is Baker’s first novel, so I thought it appropriate to start with it. It’s a short novel at under 150 pages, but I took longer to finish because I found myself re-reading chapters just to hear the prose in my head again. It’s a fantastic read. Full of digressions and meditations, Mezzanine manages to make the constantly changing and vague world of everyday minutia entertaining. Lengthy footnotes abound but add to the real-world feel of Baker’s elegantly simple yet surprisingly articulate recreations of his protagonist’s complex and diverging inner thoughts. For example, below is a relatively short footnote about the simple act of signing one’s name after paying for a meal with a credit card:

“Sometimes it is better to use the pen the restaurant provides, which is usually a cheap stick pen, even when the restaurant is quite fancy; sometimes it is more satisfying to wait with your hand on your own pen in your shirt pocket until the end of a story you are being told, and then nodding and laughing, remove it from your pocket, hearing the click of its clip as it slips off the shirt pocket’s fabric and springs against the barrel, followed by a second click as you bare the ballpoint — these two sounds being like the successively more remote clicks that initiate a long-distance call that you come to associate with the voice of the person who will answer — audible even in loud restaurants, because the burble of voices is of a much lower frequency. And just as your signature is freed into illegibility by the wine, so you imagine that the very ink in the pen adheres more readily to the tiny pores on the surface of the ball because it has been warmed by your body and by the flow of all this conversation. Rarely do pens go dry in restaurants.”

The book is full of these kind of observations that we have probably had at one point or another but have never seen or imagined could be fully recounted on the written page. Tiresome at times (sometimes our own thoughts are, aren’t they?), but always on the edge of being comedic, if not down-right funny, I recommend this book if only for the laugh-out-loud Chapter Ten, where Howie recounts the difficulty of peeing while a co-worker stands next to him in the adjacent urinal, knowing that the other person will hear if he “goes” or not. Sometimes he will pretend to finish, clear his throat, zip his fly and walk out, hating himself, wondering if the other guy is thinking, “Wait, I don’t think I heard that guy actually going! I think he stood there for a minute, faked that he had taken a piss, and then flushed and took off!” Simply sublime.

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Comments»

1. Jason - February 6, 2007

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

Yessir, Nicholson Baker for President!

2. Markus - February 6, 2007

Reminds me of the time when you told me the story of when you were in the stall and something happened in the one next to you.


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