Monday, August 09, 2004

Might We Re-Direct Your Attention From Nicholson Baker To ... Ladies And Gentlemen, Mr. Leon Wieseltier!

You could say that Nicholson Baker, the only fiction writer I know of who’s had a novel sent up on Saturday Night Live, has a knack for attracting the spotlight, but you'd be doing "understatement" a disservice. Still, there aren't many avenues left for novelists seeking fame and fortune, and even controversy is an increasingly fickle route - just ask Brett Easton Ellis. But where Ellis's humorless, workmanlike prose fails to lift his subject from the gutter, Baker's prosaic mastery does just the opposite. Baker might ham-fistedly seize the spotlight with his subject matter, like a kid taking a barrel over Niagara Falls, but he finesses it with spectacular prose that defies gravity. He doesn't just survive the plunge; he swims back to the top and takes a bow.

I haven't yet read his latest novel, Checkpoint, but here's another understatement: the premise of listening to a protagonist justify and outline his plot to assassinate George W. Bush makes me a little uneasy. Is this the level to which the interaction of politics and literature has descended? Thankfully, we have Leon Wieseltier's review of the book, and the controversy, for The New York Times Book Review. Registered users of the NYT website can read it here. I highly recommend it.

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