Nicholson Baker: “House of Holes”

12/01/2011 § Leave a comment

Shock doesn’t always come from the unexpected: touch an open socket, you’ll still get a shock. Baker’s relying on this to fuel his appropriately sub-titled “book of raunch,” for while there’s plenty of the never-before-seen in the fantastical House of Holes (imagine if Willy Wonka made sex toys instead of [or in addition to] chocolate), there’s also a great deal of gentlemanly discussion of the simple and complex orgasm. Which, come to think of it (pun intended), is a bit of a shock: we’re rarely so frank about our . . . ahem . . . franks. The causal nature of life in the House of Holes, where anything goes, is what’s startling — not the idea of a crotchetal transfer, the healing properties of certain ejaculates, Porndecahedrons, pussyboarding (watch out for the Cock Ness monster), a Pearloiner (who inexplicably steals clits), ass-growing cheek pumps, masturboats, etc. And of course, there’s the jarring cross between Baker’s literary abilities and his admittedly raunchy material: for example, “He fed his manly nutbag into her mouth, and she made muffled gobbling and garbling noises.” That line might appear, in some variation or another, in many an erotic fiction, but rarer is the description of a man made of “long ultraviolet lightbulbs,” who goes around giving women the perfect tan, inside and out. Even rarer, perhaps, is the comedy Baker associates with all the pleasure: “I’m afraid you’ve given me a rather large fluorescence.” Later, he describes a spume as “a jizm prism, split into three parts, all of them white,” and says that the spent penis recedes “like an aged parliamentarian.”

But it should come as no surprise to readers that, as with most orgasms, Baker isn’t interested in maintaining control: he gives in to his every whim, even when this leads to repetitious dialogue (and grunts, however inventive, are still just grunts). There’s no conflict in the novel, save for one loose central narrative, in which Shandee attempts to return Dave’s arm to him, for that animated object’s soft caress has caused her to fall in love with him. (No worries, she still has a go at pornsucking and dickwashing.) There’s nothing tantric, either: Baker doesn’t tease things out, his novel’s more of a gang-bang, which understands that momentum and variety is what it has going for it. To wit: “Chuck’s thundertube of dickmeat started sliding in. It pushed her frilly doilies of labial flesh aside, and it kept on going till it couldn’t go any farther.” “Frankly, I need two yellow school buses of dick to drive right through me. Each filled with a whole soccer team.” “She was desperate to nibble on his pectoral manslabs; desperate to knead his suede-soft balls.” “I want ball loads of hot cockslurp landing on all my spare parts. This is an emergency top-level request for dick.”

It’s inventive, to say the least, though a few sections rise above the others. In one, a woman receives an “intimate concert of Russian piano music” in which Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin use their fingers–and later their cocks–to play symphonies on her legs and feet. In another, a woman shrinks to the point at which she gets stuck in a man’s penis, and the only way for her to get out is for him to give her a “flume ride of [his] burning jizz.” In yet another, a man describes his first experience getting fucked by his own penis, as he’s swapped genitals with the lucky lady. For the most part, though, the novel is a series of diminishing returns, interested more in giving the nasty hundreds of new names (including, for penis, “Malcom Gladwell” and “half a pound of prime Angus cockbrisket”) than in developing any sort of story. The final result may feel cheap–cheaper still, in fact, given its elegant poise and all the finery–but then again, anybody who picks up this novel knows what they’re getting into: raunch.

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