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Room Temperature Paperback – April 3, 1991
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Nicholson Baker writes in 360-degree Sensurround--his descriptions of the seemingly banal awakening the most jaded of senses into recognition, admiration, and amusement. In Room Temperature, his self-deprecating, endlessly curious narrator is at home giving his baby girl a bottle and allowing his mind to wander. Uppermost in his thoughts are his wife and daughter, but there is also that obsession with commas and some concern with tiny taboos like nose-picking and stealing change from his parents. Truth-telling is the operative mode; at one point he tries to get his wife to explain a doodle by quoting a review of early Yeats: "Always true is always new." Room Temperature is a rare novel of domestic pleasure and stability, with a twist. "Was there ever a limit between us? Would disgust ever outweigh love?" Baker's alter ego asks, and seems determined to find out.
From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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I have never seen a novel so effortlessly and imperceptibly weave a central idea throughout a book. Read this novel for both it compelling insight but also for the extraordinary literary technique.
"Even so, when Patty's handwriting paused for a moment that evening soon after Bug was born, and I held in my mind a tiny pen-sound that I felt sure was a comma, I didn't at first think of literary punctuation at all, but of the distant preliterate sight of Mal Green's markings on my horn etudes. The idea of the comma as an oasis of respiration, a point of real as opposed to grammatical breath, of momentary renewal and self-marshaling in the dotty onslaught of sixteenth notes, overlaid itself on my idea of the comma as a unit of simple disjunction in written English. How had we come up with this civilized shape? I wondered. Timidly and respectfully it cupped the sense of a preceding phrase and held it out to us. It recalled the pedals of grand pianos, mosquito larvae, paisleys, adult nostril openings, the spiraling decays of fundamental particles, the prows of gondolas, half-spent tubes of antifungal ointment, falcon or airplane wings in cross section: there was a implied high culture in its asymmetrical tapering swerve that gave it a distinct superiority over the Euclidean austerity of the full point, or period."
And this is just the first half page of an 11 page discourse on the comma. In it, he recalls how he once wanted to write a full dissertation on this form of punctuation, and he verily accomplished that in this chapter. Fortunately, this book is only 116 pages long, or I would have abandoned it long before finishing. Truly, Baker offers insightful and comical moments that I found endearing, but it took some plodding to get there.
There are certainly people who will love this book, and I find no fault in that, but I felt that, if you were considering this read, you should know what you are in for.