The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker

This is one of the strangest novels I’ve ever read. It concerns an office worker named Howie who goes out at lunchtime to buy new shoelaces. The novel begins as the man enters the lobby of the building in which he works and approaches the escalator that will take him back to his office. The novel ends as the man steps off the escalator and looks back toward the lobby.ย 

Between these two simple events, Howie ponders in extraordinary detail a wide variety of relatively mundane topics: the design of milk cartons, etiquette in the men’s room, what can be purchased in a modern drugstore, thoughts that occur more than once per year, the virtues of the Jiffy Pop brand of popcorn, and the best way to count sheep when trying to fall asleep.ย 

It’s a short novel, but many readers must still find it incredibly slow and boring, even if they skip the lengthy footnotes. I hurried through a few passages that didn’t seem worth dwelling on. But I thought the book was interesting throughout, sometimes funny, always thoughtful, reminiscent ofย Tristram Shandyย (which I’ve read)ย orย Remembrance of Things Pastย (which I haven’t) in its tangents and attention to detail. ย (3/18/11)