Baker foregoes the kinky eroticism of Vox and House of Holes this time and gives readers a sweet and idiosyncratic novel about the protagonist of The Anthologist (2009), a poet and pop songwriter manqué.
Although Paul Chowder’s life is not exactly coming apart, it’s also not what it could be. His girlfriend, Roz, has taken up with someone else, he’s become less committed to writing poetry, and to make a little extra money, he shrink-wraps boats. (You’ve seen them, with the tight, white plastic....) On the other hand, he enjoys going to Quaker meetings, and he’s really getting into music. We learn he used to be a serious student of the bassoon, but in college, he switched to the study of poetry and now has some regrets. What Chowder would like is a hit song, and he looks for inspiration everywhere. While driving, for example, he sees a truck with an “Oversize Load” banner and begins to improvise: “It was big / It was bad / It was round / It could explode // Yeah, he was driving down the road / with an oversize load.” He’s also recently taken up the guitar and hopes to impress his neighbors as well as Roz with his musical prowess. Most of all, Chowder is an observer of things and people, and he still has a poet’s fascination with words, “garbanzo” being one of his new favorites. His musical erudition is impressive, and the attentive reader will receive quite an education, ranging from the reason for the bassoon solo at the beginning of The Rite of Spring to the brilliance of Victoria de los Angeles’ version of Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 to the poignancy of Jonatha Brooke’s rendition of “In the Gloaming.”
In sparkling and witty prose, Baker reminds readers why he’s one of the masters of the contemporary novel.