House of Holes, Nicholson Baker’s much talked about “book of raunch,” poses some interesting challenges for reviewers. Book reviews aren’t exactly sexy, for one thing. There’s also the problem of many publications not being able to quote from the book directly. (Hey, we can though! “Thundercock,” “asswood,” “cuntatious,” “boobosity,” “cockitude,” etc.) The reception of the book so far has been at best mixed. Reading the reviews, however, has been just about as entertaining as the best moments of the book. Have a look at some of the awkward spots Mr. Baker puts his critics in:
Janet Maslin, New York Times:
“The episode ends with a genteel ‘Could you put the screwdriver back in the tool belt on your way out?’ Imagine what you will.”
Ms. Maslin balances being demure with giving away just enough to leave everything up to the reader’s sick mind.
Mark Haskell Smith, Los Angeles Review of Books:
“The book is so unrelentingly erotic and explicit that it could, if you’re not careful, cause chafing. In fact, if you’re a heterosexual male and don’t have a boner by page 40, I would recommend you visit a urologist and get checked out. Seriously. Female readers might find the prose more moist than purple.”
The other end of the spectrum: the dirty old man approach. (What does that last sentence even mean anyway? Why can’t something be both moist and purple?)
Meg Wolitzer, Washington Post:
“It’s tempting to imagine Nicholson Baker’s agent, upon reading the manuscript of ‘House of Holes,’ nervously saying, ‘It’s very funny and original, Nick, but how are they going to review it when they’ll barely be allowed to quote from it?’”
This is the saying it without really saying it tactic: “I feel like I could mention how much I hated this book, but I won’t.” You just did! It’s a good point though, as you’ll see from the next entry.
David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times:
“Indeed, it’s a bona fide filth-fest, so unrelentingly graphic that there’s not much I can quote from it in this review.”
Katie Roiphe, Slate:
“It’s interesting to note that the women in House of Holes are as perverse and sexually game as the men, as frustrated, adventurous, and sexually enthralled.”
Ms. Roiphe takes a book with no characters or meaningful exchanges and examines the sexual politics therein. Nice touch. She even mentions “sex-positive” in her review (she calls it “one of the terrible phrases of all time,” but still.)
“House of Holes is smut. And, alas, it is smut of a low-octane variety…”
Trust us when we say that the high-octane variety of smut is something of a specialty around here.