Listen, if you buy this book, take the dust jacket off and throw it away. Because if you glance at the author’s head shot from time to time like I tend to do, that will cause problems with House of Holes. You don’t want to finish a story about a woman pleasuring herself on a penis tree and then be reminded it was written by Burl Ives.
Nicholson Baker is no stranger to erotic fiction (Vox, The Fermata), and in the publishing world, his is qualified as literary. More on that later. He took a break from that with a nonfiction book on WWII and then tribute to poetry called The Anthologist, which I went sort of apeshit over. With House of Holes he returns to what I guess his calling always was as a writer.
The titular House of Holes is an eccentric compound where visitors are indulged in even their most ridiculous fantasies, especially some they didn’t know they had, ranging from sex with a headless person (for those who fear being judged by their partner) to crotchal transfers, where volunteers have their genitals exchanged with another’s and basically go from there. And then there’s a cinema multiplex known as the Porndecahedron. It’s fun. The whole book carries the tone of that scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” when Sir Galahad stumbles into Castle Anthrax.
People usually find this place by being sucked down some random “Being John Malkovich” portal that happens to be a tumble dryer or even a hole punched in a business card. A complete stranger might ask a character if she may de-pants him and watch him manhandle himself, or something to that effect, and the guy invariably says, “Okay.” Everyone has few, if any, reservations toward the bizarre sexual opportunities presented to them and the effect is hilarious. Would you like to go pussysurfing? Sure, why not? There’s little to fear in the world of House of Holes beyond a clitoris-stealing madwoman known as “The Pearloiner.”
Ironically, No Climax
It’s filthy without ever being nasty. Unless you like nasty. Do you like nasty? Do you? Well… maybe you should read a different book or something. This is like a silly, faintly sentimental version of Letters to Penthouse. So don’t expect any kind of character development or plot trajectory across the stories. It is what it says it is– “a Book of Raunch”– just one smutty tale after another, but still, part of my giddiness waned as this became more apparent. While there are some interesting things going on here, like the old question of whether sex can engender love as opposed to vice versa, it probably has more value as a collection of some pretty stupendous dirty talk. You’re likely to find more substance in a Christopher Moore novel and with almost as many impressive moves on the prose dancefloor. This doesn’t make House of Holes a bad book, but any “literary” designation is wishful thinking on the part of highbrow readers who in reality just like the sexy, funny stuff here.
This was enjoyable, but if I ever get the opportunity to attend a book signing where Baker himself reads from it, I’ll pass.