cover image Traveling Sprinkler

Traveling Sprinkler

Nicholson Baker. Penguin/Blue Rider, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-399-16096-7

Paul Chowder, the rambling protagonist of The Anthologist, returns in Baker’s less successful latest. Between trips to Planet Fitness and disquisitions on subjects such as dance music and automobile maintenance, Chowder dwells on drones and other topics of a geopolitical nature. From lamenting his own inability to find (or keep) a girlfriend to decrying the “truly evil” nature of global agriculture industry giant Monsanto, Chowder hurls out his grievances in a gushing, sorrowful soliloquy while striving to reinvent himself by rekindling his old musical aspirations and buying himself a cheap guitar at Best Buy for his birthday. Though the stream-of-consciousness narrative wears thin, the character of Chowder—epic loser and literary striver—feels very real and is almost endearing. He is a study in contemporary dislocation, unable though he is to make any sense of his own condition. But that’s fine; for all Chowder really craves, like the homeless guy on the corner, is an audience he can chirp at for the duration: “Hey, Junior Birdmen. I’m Paul Chowder and I’m here in the blindingness of noon near the chicken hut talking to you about the things that need to be talked about. You know what they are.” Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Sept.)