Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2013 October 16 • Wednesday

There was a double surprise waiting for us at Unnameable Books when we wandered in there on Saturday. A new Nicholson Baker novel that's also a sequel to his earlier novel The Anthologist.

I read it in one day, almost in one sitting. At the end of The Anthologist the poet Paul Chowder had worked through something of a mid-life crisis and there seemed to be hope that he would reunite with his girlfriend, Roz.

Traveling Sprinkler deals with another sort of crisis, Chowder's dissatisfaction with poetry and urge to write pop songs, and also ties up the loose ends of his relationship with Roz, who is now seeing another man. There are many other things going on, anger at politics and violence, especially as they relate to the CIA, a lot of thinking about Debussy and the bassoon, recollections of childhood, also comedy and pathos in just the right amounts.

What makes the book so exciting, though, is Baker's use of language, particularly metaphor. The book itself is presented as being written by Chowder himself, sometimes spoken into a recorder, sometimes typed onto a computer, so the richness of image and imagination is appropriate.

Chowder experiments with smoking cigars and in one memorable passage he describes "the silent humidor room with its wall of dense brown cigars in boxes looking like old leather-bound books of unread sermons in a historic house in the Yorkshire moors". He describes the melody of a song as "like a thread that is wrapped around various doorknobs in a large ornate eighteenth-century room of harmony designed by an architect named Rameau".

Perhaps my favorite is "There are only so many nights like this. The middle of summertime, and even though it's late, a cricket like a bartender with a rag in his hand is mopping the surfaces of sound". This harmonizes with another theme of the book, namely growing old, looking back, having regrets for the past and hopes for the future. You will only have so many nights like this. Enjoy them.