Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Nicholson Baker's novel Vox was both titillating and a disappointment. Vox is a 165 page telephone conversation between and man and woman who have called a sex number advertised in a magazine. The random connection of two lonely and distant people is a wonderful and imaginative set-up, but not this time. First off, Baker is in love with ironic distance, and reducing a character to a voice on a phone fuctions as a distancing mechanism for Baker (the way a voice in a confessional need not). Secondly, the characters, Jim and Abby are interested in masturbation, even when they actually share sexual experiences with physically present people. This renders their actual sexual experiences as once-removed, and the phone conversation twice-removed. Thirdly, and most importantly for me, the book fails to take advantage of what could be an immensely powerful and moving situation by dwelling on the mundane. But perhaps reading Vox so quickly after Koestler's Darkness at Noon was the problem. A book of enormous philosophical, political and self-examination, and yes, real soul. Something that is rare in pop culture, in which Baker seems to be a star.

On the other hand, and yes there are two, I'm fascinated by the device of a phone conversation to frame an entire novel. The only other one I know is Lily Tuck's Interviewing Matisse, or the Woman Who Died Standing Up.

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