Baker’s deep dive into poetry analysis and history succeeds on every level except for his audiobook narration, which is uneven, ranging from blasting your ear drums out to indecipherable murmurs. The whole book is a poetic interlude about an anthologist failing to write a poetry book introduction. The minutia of his life is cast under starkly touching light in that way only Baker can capture.
A single conversation, about 170 pages long.
Baker’s exceptionally readable style renders the most mundane moments vivid. While the subject matter is titillating in some respects, the implicit aura of companionship, intimacy, and aesthetic appreciation shines light on humanity’s capacity to intricately fantasize. This platonic grokking between two in-synch individuals is the novel’s true, nutty center. Richard Bausch wrote a short story with this exact premise, where a call to a phone sex hotline develops into a deep relationship. I’ll have to reread Bausch’s collected stories just to locate it.
Baker’s other novels stir occasional interest in me for their lack of plot, their relishing of the everyday extravagances of well-spoken narrators, and their unbelievably frank moments. More entertaining than most Philip Roth books I’ve read, and short enough to tolerate. Reading Baker also makes me want to revisit Bukowski for some reason. I won’t reread Baker, neither would I recommend him to most, but I’ll always value his close attention to character voice, nuance, and microscopic detail.