cover image Room Temperature

Room Temperature

Nicholson Baker. Grove/Atlantic, $15.95 (116pp) ISBN 978-0-8021-1224-8

Baker's first novel, The Mezzanine , was hailed for its minimalist conceit--the story of a lunch-hour sortie to buy shoelaces--and its exhaustive cataloging of objects encountered and thoughts entertained. For readers impressed with the precision of Baker's descriptive powers but chilled by its clinical rigor, this second novel will deliver a welcome warmth. Occasioned by a 20-minute bottle-feeding of his infant daughter ``Bug,'' narrator Michael Beal, a young house-hus- band, transforms the sounds and textures of an autumn afternoon into an absorbed--and absorbing--reverie: ``The Bug's nostril had the innocent perfection of a cheerio a tiny dry clean salty ring, with the odd but functional smallness . . . of the smooth rim around the pistil of the brass pump head that you fitted over a tire's nipple to inflate it.'' In a refreshing bit of candor, the narrator baldly states the author's goals: ``I certainly believed, rocking my daughter on this Wednesday afternoon, that with a little concentration one's whole life could be reconstructed.'' In a classic pairing of form and content, meditations on the images of infancy develop into mature, if somewhat ingenuous, reflections on the transit to adulthood. This is a small masterpiece by an extraordinarily gifted young writer. (Apr.)