Emmett has a wife and two children, a cat, and a duck, and he wants to know what life is about. Every day he gets up before dawn, makes a cup of coffee in the dark, lights a fire with one wooden match, and thinks. What Emmett thinks about is the subject of this wise and closely observed novel, which covers vast distances while moving no farther than Emmett's hearth and home. Nicholson Baker's extraordinary ability to describe and celebrate life in all its rich ordinariness has never been so beautifully achieved. Baker won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. He now returns to fiction with this lovely book, reminiscent of the early novels-Room Temperature and The Mezzanine-that established his reputation. From the Hardcover edition.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
The science of the insignificant has always been Baker's field of study. Treading a fine line between microcosmic dazzlement and banality, he has carved out a minuscule kingdom for himself. After his recent excursion into nonfiction (the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Double Fold), he returns to fiction with a novel in the classic Baker tradition. For Emmett, a 44-year-old father and textbook editor, the predawn wintry darkness is an invitation to musings and meditations on life's events-make that nonevents. Each chapter begins virtually identically ("Good morning, it's 4:45 a.m...."), with Emmett reflecting on something as he sips coffee and warms himself by the fire: the family's pet duck, outside in the cold; a well-worn briefcase; an alternative career as a lichen expert; the idea of collecting paper towel designs. His family-two children and wife Claire-occasionally appear in his ruminations, and his love for them is palpable. But they never emerge as more than background figures, because Emmett's preoccupation is with himself; at one point, he (literally) gathers lint from his navel. Baker struggles to manufacture drama ("Last night my sleep was threatened by a toe-hole in my sock"), and his prose is evocative (a match bursting into flame becomes a "dandelion head of little sparks"). He is such an excellent writer, a master of descriptive detail with an unusual perspective on the world, that he can almost be forgiven for his tendency to focus on the mundane-almost. Emmett's life may seem rich to him, but it isn't rich enough to propel an entire novel. Even readers with a weakness for Baker's particular brand of minutiae may find themselves hoping that next time he will find a subject worthier of his prose. Agent, Melanie Jackson. Author tour. (Jan. 14) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 08, 2004
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Excerpt from A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker
Good morning, it's January and it's 4:17 a.m., and I'm going to sit here
in the dark. I'm in the living room in my blue bathrobe, with an
armchair pulled up to the fireplace. There isn't much in the way of open
flame at the moment because the underlayer of balled-up newspaper and
paper-towel tubes has burned down and the wood hasn't fully caught yet.
So what I'm looking at is an orangey ember-cavern that resembles a
monster's sloppy mouth, filled with half-chewed, glowing bits of
fire-meat. When it's very dark like this you lose your sense of scale.
Sometimes I think I'm steering a space-plane into a gigantic fissure in
a dark and remote planet. The planet's crust is beginning to break up,
allowing an underground sea of lava to ooze out. Continents are tipping
and foundering like melting icebergs, and I must fly in on my highly
maneuverable rocket and save the colonists who are trapped there.
Last night my sleep was threatened by a toe-hole in my sock. I had known
of the hole when I put the sock on in the morning-it was a white tube
sock-but a hole seldom bothers me during the daytime. I can and do wear
socks all day that have a monstrous rear-tear through which the entire
heel projects like a dinner roll. But at night the edges of the hole
come alive. I was reading my book of Robert Service poems last night
around nine-thirty, when the hole's edge began tickling and pestering
the skin of the two toes that projected through. I tried to retract the
toes and use them to catch some of the edge of the sock's fabric,
pulling it over the opening like a too-small blanket that has slid off
the bed, but that didn't work-it seldom does. I knew that later on,
after midnight, I would wake up and feel the coolness of the sheet on
those two exposed toes, which would trouble me, even though that same
coolness wouldn't trouble me if the entire foot was exposed. I would
become wakeful as a result of the toe-hole, and I didn't want that,
because I was starting a new regime of getting up at four in the