Jenny Roth's Reviews > The Mezzanine

The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
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's review
Oct 27, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites
Recommended for: Dan, whose mind seems to work scarily like Baker's
Read from August 06 to 11, 2011 — I own a copy

The New York Times article that finally spurred me to purchase this book (which has been on my to-read list for years) described Baker's writing as "miniaturist." I won’t argue, but I think perhaps the best way to characterize it is as slightly obsessive compulsive, or at least strongly predisposed to scrutinizing the minutia of everyday life.
The narrator of The Mezzanine spends a good chunk of the book analyzing the power of childhood wonder, how it shapes our worldview and expectations unlike anything that occurs after adolescence. Yet Baker truly seems to have maintained this wonder; in fact, it may only have multiplied, his curiosity growing exponentially with each new bit of knowledge and experience. His* musings on changing technology are especially interesting. There’s something more than nostalgia here: with each adoption of a new process or machine into daily life—from cell phones to milk cartons—our understanding of “the way things work” (that constant childhood mystery) is fundamentally altered.
Like most of Baker’s work, this book is remarkable in its ability to be a great without any of the standard touchstones of a novel: a plot, characters, a cultural or historical background. The book instead rests almost entirely on his keen powers of observation, bordering on psychological disorder. With his wholly unadulterated sense of wonder, Baker has the ability to reintroduce a sense of awe into readers, if only for a short time. And that is nothing short of wondrous.

*Here I mean both Baker and the narrator, for while The Mezzanine is ostensibly fiction, it is largely about the contents of the human mind, which have that tricky habit of being lived as soon as they are imagined.

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