Wrangling the Cock Ness Monster: House of Holes 

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House of Holes: A Book of Raunch
Nicholson Baker


(Simon & Schuster)

Martin Amis, in The Pregnant Widow , writes that one of the unique characteristics of sexual intercourse is that it is "indescribable." Leave it to Nicholson Baker to try. House of Holes: A Book of Raunch describes the sexual act in such detail that it is transmogrified into Mad Libs. Forget cigars: a penis is a "blood-pulsing truncheon" or a "Malcolm Gladwell."

This certainly isn’t the first time Baker’s touched on (or lightly fondled) erotica. In Vox (1992) two strangers exchange a phone marathon of sexy pleasantries. In The Fermata (1994) an office temp with the ability to stop time uses his power to undress women. But where these are dialogue and genre exercises respectively, House of Holes is a full-on farce, with madcap action, physical humor, and absurd characters such as "The Pearloiner," a notorious clit thief, commingling with boytoys named Hax, Ruzty and Dune.

Each chapter is a vignette in which everyday people are sucked into o-shaped portals (an "O" formed by the fingers of a disembodied arm, the interior of a pepper mill) to the House of Holes, a fantastical sex resort where their most depraved fantasies come true. For the "International Couch," women of all ages and weights wait with their asses in the air so men can hump their way down the line; there’s also a "Squat Line" for women, with rows of tumescent men on beach towels.

Baker avoids the cries of sexism that usually dog pornography by placing in charge a woman, Lila, who accommodates women’s fantasies for free, and he takes care to make the sex credible from a female perspective. He dares delicate sensibilities to keep a straight face about bombastic inventions such as sperm scholarships and "pedal-powered Masturboats" on a lake teeming with "pussysurfers." The farce works on two levels: within House of Holes, sex becomes comedy; outside it, in a number of glowing reviews almost as dirty as the book itself, criticism becomes comedy, as academics and culture mavens are forced to consider "The Cock Ness Monster." From a first-time author, House of Holes would be dismissed as a desperate cry for attention, but Baker has earned the right to cause this sort of trouble.

Kathy Acker attempted to write while masturbating to see what went through her head at the moment of climax; has she finally found a comrade in arms (or hands, in this case)? Baker might not have been waxing his kielbasa while writing all of House of Holes, but he gets the fractured phantasmagoria of sexual ecstasy in scenes familiar to anyone who’s allowed her mind to wander shamelessly. The thoughts and acts described in House of Holes are unsettlingly accurate encapsulations of the fantasies of desensitized Americans—minus all pretenses of small talk.

If you’re looking for a book to turn you on, you might be disappointed, unless euphemisms like "spunkloaded meatloaf" and "swollen sackload" leave you "ultrahorny." House of Holes is never more than mechanically arousing: Baker writes about bukake as if he’s describing the most efficient way to plant a row of roses by the mailbox. Still, he channels Richard Brautigan’s whimsical happy-hearted tone, adding another mark of prowess to his versatile body of work, and winds up with the most satisfying of his three sex books to date. In Vox and The Fermata he was beating around the bush. Here he just beats it.

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