cover image Vox


Nicholson Baker. Random House Inc, $15 (165pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58995-4

For readers who feel that, descriptive virtuosity aside, Baker's previous books displayed a disturbingly narrow focus-- The Mezzanine documented an office worker's lunch-hour search for shoelaces; Room Temperature studied a 40-minute bottle-feeding of an infant; U & I lingered over a young writer's obsession with John Updike--Vox will put paid to their most negative suspicions. And for those who feel that Baker is an unparalleled talent, forgiveness may be the only recourse after reading this thin (176 pages) and unaccountably self-indulgent work . Terms like masturbation, onanism and fetishism not only capture this book's themes, they serve as well to characterize the author's unseemly affair with a language closeted from the real world. Baker's inestimable gift, evinced in the other books, for describing the indescribable with absolutely spot-on flourishes are nowhere to be found in Vox . Instead, the reader is treated to one long conversation between Jim and Abby, two people who have just met over a phone sex call-in line. Together they explore rather tame and respectable sexual fantasies and regale each other with inane disclosures. In the end, this long-distance pillow talk is less a commentary on human intercourse than an indictment of Baker's own rarefied style. 50,000 first printing; author tour. (Feb.)