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by Nicholson Baker

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-43933-1
Publisher: Random House

The author of The Fermata (1994), among others, offers an extended dramatic monologue by a nine-year-old American girl living in England, a plotless series of riffs exploring the curiosities of a life among English-speaking foreigners. It’s a promising idea, and Baker, a dedicated miniaturist who got an entire novel (Mezzanine, 1988) out of a trip to buy a pair of shoelaces, ought to have found such a venue congenial. There are dangers, however, that he wasn—t entirely able to avoid.For one thing, tininess is not inevitably interesting,but can seem merely trivial. “Babies learn the words for their feet and toes and fingers quite early,” his nine-year-old Nory observes, “because they can hold them close to their faces, and they learn about their eyes and nose and mouth because they are on their faces, but for some reason they are never terribly interested in their ankles.” This leads into a consideration of how Achilles’ mother dipped him “head-first into the Watersticks,” and, Nory explains, how “she held him by pinching hard on the back part of the foot, above his heel.— If one is delighted by the misprision of “Watersticks” for the Water Styx, and persuaded by the youthful trendiness of such adverbs as “tremendously” and “totally,” then this extended take offers a certain low-level charm. For those with less tolerance for the narrator’s cuteness (or the author’s delight in his own imposture), that charm is likely to wear thin very quickly.And once that happens, the reader will start to notice all the small errors, which in this kind of performance are nearly fatal. Nory remembers her fear of the Tweety monster, which was “just simply a monster version of Tweety-bird in a Sylvester and Tweety tape—Tweety turned into it when he drank a special potion. No reason to be scared of a casual little cartoon.” What, the word —casual— from a nine-year-old? It rings wrong, totally. (Author tour)