Vox. Nicholson Baker.

Baker, Nicholson. Vox. Random House New York 1992. F;11/11.

I remembered having seen this on my own bookshelf when I started to read an interview with the author in the Paris Review, so I pulled it out. I hadn’t read it before and am not sure how it got to be on my shelf. It took less than 24 hours to read, being quite short.

It is as old warnings from the movie censor used to say completely concerned with sex. Using what now appears as nostalgic early-90s telephone and video technology, a young man and woman get into a phone conversation through a sexual link-up service which is a kind of pre-internet chat room. Their conversation is the book’s entire content. It’s clear they both know they’re going to talk about sex, but we find them humorous and bright, not salacious or coarse at all, as they entertain one another with scenarios that are unpredictable and end up being unselfconsciously erotic. Allowing for some dated language, the author manages the famously difficult task of rendering sex …believably. And the characters and their relationship evolve, which is the plot of this “novella,” I guess it should be called.

I wonder whether the early 1990s were some sort of a zenith of frankness about sex, masturbation, and kinkiness. I guess there is a particular feel to this kind of conversation vis-à-vis the current cultural climate, so the attitude of the characters and the tone feels just a shade dated. Maybe only overheated imaginations can appreciate this, like the way some people claim they can tell you which village in Yorkshire someone is from by listening to them talk. Anyway the book still works.

Baker (I’ve read the first bit of the interview in the Review) seems a shy quiet kind of fellow, and I guess we are expected to take him on his literary merits just as we have DH Lawrence and Grace Metalious. I would read something else written by him, not necessarily for the eroticism. 7.8

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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