My review of Nicholson Baker’s Traveling Sprinkler is up over at The Rumpus today. Been working on more interviews and reviews for them and Fiction Writers Review lately. 1st paragraph:
There’s a moment toward the end of Nicholson Baker’s 2009The Anthologist when someone asks Paul Chowder, the narrator, how he gets in the mindset for writing poetry. Chowder answers that he simply asks himself, “What was the very best moment of your day?” Once, he continues, “it was when I was driving past a certain house that was screaming with sun-litness on its white clapboards, and then I plunged through tree shadows that splashed and splayed over the windshield.” All throughout that lecture-cum-novel, Chowder shared his pleasantest moments via correctly incorrect phrases like “sun-litness” and the cantilevered idea that a house might be screaming with it. On a raft of just eight paragraphs he can flow naturally from noticing the “gentleman’s agreement” between a grapevine and a bramble, to feeling strange while reading Roethke’s posthumous On the Poet and His Craft since it’s “like standing in some little cemetery somewhere, staring at a little white gravestone in the grass,” to lightly mocking Roethke’s “Ozymandian” claim that Louise Bogan’s poetry might last “as long as the language survives,” to pondering how English will one day be dead and studied like Latin and then “everyone will see that the sitcom is the great American art form,” all just to land on “even so, I want to lie in bed and just read poems sometimes and not watch TV.” It’s one off-kilter thought after another until you’re tippling down and across the pages, a bit lightheaded from all that sugar-sweet Bakerdashery.
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Still lying on the sofa, he looked around the apartment, full of the quiet that comes only at midday when everyone has left for work and the only noise is the lonesome bark of a dog, a child laughing, or the sound of workmen a couple of streets away. He ran a bath and lay smoking in the narrow tub, letting the steam moisten the parched sponge of his head. The only sound was the dripping of the tap and the splash of his movements, the squeak of his flesh on the tub. How empty your head got to be, living abroad.
For I imagine that no one has explained this, that really the best thing is to put aside all decorum and tell it, because, after all’s done, nobody is ashamed of breathing or of putting on his shoes; they’re things that you do, and when something weird happens, when you find a spider in your shoe or if you take a breath and feel like a broken window, then you have to tell what’s happening, tell it to the guys at the office or to the doctor. Oh, doctor, every time I take a breath … Always tell it, always get rid of that tickle in the stomach that bothers you.
Octopuses die after mating and laying eggs, but first they go senile, acting like a person with dementia. “They swim loop-the-loop in the tank, they look all googly-eyed, they won’t look you in the eye or attack prey,” Warburton said. One senile octopus crawled out of the tank, squeezed into a crack in the wall, dried up, and died.