Chuck's Reviews > House of Holes

House of Holes by Nicholson Baker
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U 50x66
's review
Sep 29, 2011

it was ok
Read in September, 2011

First, a commercial message from the author: "Hi folks, this is NB. If you have a sex ache that needs relief, jump onto a Smutship and jig right over to the House of Holes. You'll find all sorts of gratification available, the huge variety limited only by my own imagination. Ask and ye shall receive -- inhibitionists need not apply. No guilt, no commitment, no STDs, and no birth control required. Guys, your Wankee Doodlers can explore luscious love canals, and gals, pulchritudinous plum plungers stand ready to serve your juicy fruit-folds. Come one, come all."

Well, if imitation* is really flattering, then I hope that Nicholson Baker is at least mildly gratified, in the unlikely event that he's reading this review. In any case, he's surely gratified by the fact that, perhaps due to positive notices in such august publications as The New York Times and The New York Review of Books, House of Holes is selling briskly. On Amazon, it is already doing far better than two of Baker's earlier and truly serious works -- The Mezzanine and U & I -- and it is even outstripping (sorry, can't help those puns) his raunchy Vox, notoriously given to Bill Clinton by Monica Lewinsky.

Nevertheless, the publication of House of Holes is not a major literary event. No deep plot or character development appears here to interfere with the unrelenting march of orgasmic vignettes. The book does exhibit a fertile imagination and sporadic humor, but its few literary pretensions reduce to some clever puns and occasional references to cultural luminaries like Borodin, Dickens, and Hawking. Its principal achievement is probably that it yields a huge thesaurus of novel synonyms for various body parts, notably genitalia. Despite its graphic depiction of sexual activity, Baker's book is remarkably untitillating (if it's real porn that you seek, look elsewhere unless the HOH's pornsucker airship has already eradicated it). The most appreciative audience for House of Holes is likely to be young adolescents.

To be sure, in Baker's fantasy realm of relationless sex there are a few admirable social values on display, e.g., sexual freedom, openness, and honesty. And although a trip to the House of Holes is primarily aimed at fostering heterosexual activity, other types of arrangements occasionally appear, entirely devoid of negative judgment. Such virtues are attained without any social cost or ultimate personal sacrifice; however, out-of-pocket expenses can be substantial.

There's no such thing as kinky sex in the House of Holes; every technique appears to be regarded as perfectly normal. For example, women visiting the House of Holes sometimes select a no-brainer option: sex with a headless (but otherwise alive) male body. Perhaps that's an apt metaphor for our contemporary popular culture, in which professional models and athletes are spectacularly rewarded, whereas the TV show Jeopardy constitutes our most profound national celebration of intellectual activity.

[*I'm reasonably confident that all of the "special-purpose" terminology in the opening paragraph of this review is imitation rather than plagiarism, but certifying that claim would require a very careful re-reading of House of Holes, and at this point my time could be better spent. If it happens that I have unwittingly appropriated any of Baker's exact terminology, then I guess that's testimony to the power of his language to infiltrate our own vocabularies unconsciously.]
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