Tag Archives: book-recommendation

Book Recommendation: The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker

24 May

The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker - on GoodReads“Perforation! Shout it out! The deliberate punctuated weakening of paper and cardboard so that it will tear along an intended path, leaving a row of fine-haired pills or tuftlets on each new edge! It is a staggering conception, showing an age-transforming feel for the unique properties of pulped wood fiber.” – Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine

This book is not about a man on a lunch break. It’s not about an escalator. It’s not about corporate restroom behavior or group get well cards. It’s not about paper towels, milk carton technology, or even the degradation patterns of shoelaces.  Through what some might call these plot-less pages, we come to see our world differently, and this, I believe, is what The Mezzanine is about. It calls us to see our world, as Proust famously said, with “new eyes.”

When I first read Proust, I started noticing the swirls milk made in tea and the specific memories that the smell of chemical-grape elicited. Baker’s writing has a similar effect on me. The thin volume (only 135 pages) moves slowly — not just because of footnotes but because we come to see in detail. Baker tunnels us into rabbit holes of consciousness, as our narrator looks closely at his world and examines his own “thought periodicity” (126). After reading Baker for a while, it feels like my mind, like a whiteboard, might not only be erased but cleaned with that special whiteboard solvent that takes away the ghost of all the writings that, until now, could never be fully eradicated. Afterward, my mind is left in the moment, noticing what’s right here — seeing how weird and amazing it all is.

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Book Recommendation: Room, by Emma Donoghue

20 Jan

Room, by Emma Donoghue

“In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time … I guess the time gets spread very thin like butter all over the world, the roads and houses and playgrounds and stores, so there’s only a little smear of time on each place, then everyone has to hurry on to the next bit.”
— Emma Donoghue (Room)

Emma Donoghue’s latest novel, Room, tells the story of a child and his mother, held captive by a mysterious man named “Old Nick.” The story is told from the viewpoint of five-year-old Jack.

What I most enjoy about this story is what some readers find most frustrating: the voice of the child narrator. Jack (who was born inside the room and has been there ever since) looks at the world through a narrow lens, and his viewpoint is –well, shiny. Jack sees his world in a kind of Technicolor.  For Jack, everything is alive, from the mouse and spider in the room to inanimate objects like the blanket, bed, and wardrobe. Donoghue weaves references to psychological object relations theory here, as we begin to see that Ma and the room are the world for Jack –and as we see how Jack, a usual boy, must develop in this unusual environment. In seeing the room through Jack’s eyes, we come to see the world differently too. The closeness of it all–the room and Ma and the familiarity of each day– become a kind of womb.

While the narration may not be 100% realistic for a five-year-old and while Jack does have an inconsistent vocabulary, I find that I like following his point of view though the world. I like seeing the room and the world through Jack’s bright vision, and I like seeing what happens as his world changes.

It’s a worthwhile read — for writers interested in a study of point of view, for psychologically-minded folk, and for those hoping for a new way to see the world. As Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” If this is true, Room, I believe, can help us get a bit closer to a new kind of sight.

Book Recommendation:Last Night at the Lobster

18 Nov

Last Night at the Lobster

The amazing Nancy Zafris (whose books you should buy) originally introduced me to Stewart O’Nan‘s work, and I’ve not been disappointed. O’Nan is a master of two things that I find especially helpful in studying the art of writing fiction: understatement and back story.

The story is simple enough. It takes place at a Red Lobster, spanning the last night before the restaurant closes for good. We follow Manny (the manager) as he goes through the motions of his job for the last time: opening the restaurant, negotiating the hurried moments before the first customers arrive, getting through lunch and dinner rush, and undertaking the ritual of shutting down for the night. We also closely follow Manny as he says goodbye to most of his staff — including the server he’s in love with.

Through it all, O’Nan uses beautiful understatement. The emotional moments of letting go of a decade-long job are given voice through the everyday objects and actions of the restaurant — anger in an employee who slashes leather jackets before leaving work for the last time, nostalgia in Manny as he imagines keeping the marlin that hangs on the wall, and the combination of hope and hopelessness as he gives employees lottery tickets as a parting gift. All this is told with the restraint of a narrator who keeps his cards close to his chest, who wants to do a good job, even as he knows that he and his staff are expendable.

O’Nan is also a master at back story — sharing the background details without making the interior monologue clunky or contrived (one of my pet peeves in fiction). Slowly, we learn the histories of employees, and slowly, we come to understand just how much the Red Lobster means to Manny.

A beautiful story.