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The Book of Raunch

A-House of HolesNicholson Baker eased his way onto the stage of American letters with the 1988 publication of The Mezzanine, an unassuming novel celebrating life's minutiae. Later efforts include Vox (1992), The Fermata (1994), and The Anthologist (2009). House of Holes, the author's ninth novel, examines a utopian world of sex and debauchery.

The Story: A collection of vignettes centered on the intimate sexual details of the characters' lives, House of Holes is primarily about the pursuit of pleasure. Drawn into the eponymous dwelling--a kind of pornographic Fantasy Island--by their desires through all kinds of holes in the real world, characters will pay exorbitant sums (in fact, as more than one proves, they will stop at nothing) to fulfill their deepest sexual fantasies. On one level pure pornography (read the book to find out what "masturboats," "groanrooms," a "succulent stovetop," and a "Malcolm Gladwell" might mean in Baker's twisted world), the novel revels in the possibilities of language and seeks the limits of human experience.
Simon & Schuster. 272 pages. $25. ISBN: 9781439189511

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Readers with a fondness for richly ridiculous diction, witty provocation and graphic sexual prose that celebrates desire, frailty and the comedy of life will not be disappointed. ... Puns are normally a lousy idea, but Baker's have a goofy charm." Sam Lipsyte

Slate 4 of 5 Stars
"Nicholson Baker's new novel, House of Holes: A Book of Raunch, will no doubt attract attention and a certain amount of stylish ridicule for its manic preoccupation with sex, its boundless, resourceful, outrageous, cartoonish pornography, but it is altogether a darker, stranger, funnier, and more complicated book than that attention will imply. ... The House of Holes is a sexy, disturbing, funny book: It may also challenge the usual reader of literary novels with its sheer dazzling excess of imagination." Katie Roiphe

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Nicholson Baker's new novel, House of Holes, is brilliant, absurd, puerile, depraved, and completely enthralling. ... A day after I finished it, I could barely remember what I'd read." Steve Almond

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[House of Holes] can be obsessive in the way that pornography can be, but virtually every page offers something smart and amusing, and sometimes there are little jolts of true tenderness. ... House of Holes, though exhausting, is full of fearlessness, cheerfulness, wit and brio." Meg Wolitzer

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"House of Holes is no study in subtlety. ... Anybody who values Mr. Baker's dogged intensity is apt to be less enchanted by the gee-whiz silliness on display here." Janet Maslin

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Indeed, [House of Holes is] a bona fide filth-fest, so unrelentingly graphic that there's not much I can quote from it in this review. At the same time, there's an innocence to House of Holes, which is (if such a thing is possible) a dirty book without prurience, intended less to titillate than to amuse." David L. Ulin

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Profoundly dirty and profoundly silly, Nicholson Baker's House of Holes: A Book of Raunch is the oddest book yet by a talented writer who's made a career of writing odd books. ... While House of Holes sometimes has as much sex per page as a Penthouse letter, it is not exactly an unputdownable thrill ride, and it has its issues, even for people not taken aback by its explicitness." Jim Higgins

Oregonian 2 of 5 Stars
"There are a lot of light, witty sentences in House of Holes--no one who reads it will be able to hear the name Malcolm Gladwell without smiling--but ultimately it's too boring and shallow to succeed as literature. If House of Holes was submitted to Penthouse, the editors probably would get a few laughs out of it before rejecting it as too bizarre." Jeff Baker

Critical Summary

Nicholson Baker has made a reputation on the experimental edge of fiction, and he's never shied away from the controversy that his novels generate: witness his take on phone sex in Vox or the "chronanisms" of an oversexed office temp in The Fermata. The riskier House of Holes recalls those novels--and the book isn't without a certain voyeuristic, goofy charm--though Baker is less successful this time around, often repetitive, sometimes too silly. Before the book is relegated to the second-rank of Baker's fiction, though, consider the author's sly sense of humor (sometimes buried here beneath the more obvious visual fireworks) and the absurdist, Vonnegutian context. His wordplay and from-left-field set pieces are always worth a look.