THE MEZZANINE by Nicholson Baker

THE MEZZANINE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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."") Momentarily, this wallow in the ordinary seems to be a send-up of the soulful, imitation Proust meanderings of some contemporary American writers. Then, all too quickly, it becomes clear that Baker intends these microscropic close-ups of the mundane to provide genuine frissons of recognition--humorous (á la Andy Rooney) or even profound. But the fussy prose and smug archness here kill most of the laughs (in contrast to Rooney's terse plain-spoken charm). And, virtually void of characterization and drama, this short first novel (portions of which first appeared in the New Yorker) remains a gimmicky collage of sophomoric digressions--without the truly resonant evocation of dailiness found in more rounded, less effortful fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
ISBN: 080214490X
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson