Authors: Nicholson Baker
“An anatomically correct, technology-assisted love story …
proves once again that the brain, as love doctors always tell us, is the sexiest organ.”
“Baker freshens the tattered clichés of sex talk the same way he has made the mundane language of corporate and domestic life snap, crackle, and pop—by inventing new words, or toying masterfully with ones we already have.”
The New Yorker
“The book achieves between its two geographically distanced protagonists the kind of intimacy that all of us, from Bible-thumpers to leather fanciers, yearn for.
is that rarest of rarities: a warm turn-on.”
“Delicate, perceptive, kind …
is a novel for the nineties.”
“Fancifully and amusingly detailed … Vox deserves to be read with full attention to what surrounds and lies between the sexually explicit moments.”
New York Review of Books
“Baker’s characters are flesh-and-blood narrators whose stories stir up more than the imagination.”
“Astoundingly funny … [Baker’s] jeweler’s-loupe perspective discloses comedy in all kinds of unexpected, intimate spots.”
Village Voice Literary Supplement
“The most overtly feminist sex novel that anyone has attempted in years. I say feminist because the female character is on a par with her male partner erotically. She is articulate, lusty, supplied with normal female caution but, just as normally, feminine curiosity and desire.”
—Susie Bright, L. A.
“Graphic, playfully erotic … Baker, the hyper-observant … author of
, has found an engaging way to celebrate the power of the human voice.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Baker has no challenger today as a master of the minuscule, and he pays out his tale … with an aesthete’s attention to detail and the moment.… His powers of description are formidable.”
—Katherine A. Powers,
“Vox isn’t just Baker’s hottest book; it’s also his warmest.”
Nicholson Baker was born in 1957. He is the author
of The Mezzanine
U and I
(1991), Vox, (1992), and
(1994). He has written for
The New Yorker
The Atlantic Monthly
. He is married with two children.
Books by Nicholson Baker
U and I
VINTAGE CONTEMPORARIES EDITION, FEBRUARY 1993
Copyright © 1993 by Nicholson Baker
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Random House, Inc., New York, in 1992.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Vox: a novel / Nicholson Baker.–1st Vintage contemporaries ed.
“What are you wearing?” he asked.
She said, “I’m wearing a white shirt with little stars, green and black stars, on it, and black pants, and socks the color of the green stars, and a pair of black sneakers I got for nine dollars.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m lying on my bed, which is made. That’s an unusual thing. I made my bed this morning. A few months ago my mother gave me a chenille bedspread, exactly the kind we used to have, and I felt bad that it was still folded up unused and this morning I finally made the bed with it.”
“I don’t know what chenille is,” he said. “It’s some kind of silky material?”
“No, it’s cotton. Cotton chenille. It’s got those little tufts, in conventional patterns. Like in bed-and-breakfasts.”
“Oh oh oh, the patterns of
. I’m relieved.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Silk is somehow … you think of ads for escort services where the type is set in fake-o eighteenth-century script—
For the Discriminating Gentleman
—that kind of thing. Or Deliques Intimates, you know that catalog?”
“I get one about every week.”
“Right, a deluge. Lace filigree, Aubrey Beardsley, no thank you. All I can think of is, ma’am, those silk tap pants you’ve got on are going to stain.”
“You’re right about that,” she said. “Someone gave me this exotic chemisey thing, not from Deliques but the same idea, silk with lace. I get quite … I get very
when I’m aroused, it’s almost embarrassing actually. So this chemisey thing got soaked. He said, the person who bought it for me said, ‘So what, throw it away, use it once.’ But I don’t know, I thought I might want to wear it again. It’s really nice to wear silk, you know. So I took it to the dry cleaners. I didn’t mention it specifically, I bunched it in with a lot of work clothes. It came back with a little tag on it, with a little dancing man with a tragic expression, wearing a hat, who says, you know, ‘Sorry! We did everything we could, we took extraordinary measures, but the stains on this garment could not come out!’ I took a look at it, and it was very odd, there were these five
stains on it, little ovals, not down where I’d been wet, but higher up, on the front.”
“And the guy who gave it to me had
come on me. He came elsewhere—that much I was sure of. So my theory is that someone at the dry cleaners …”
“No! Do you still give them your business?”
“Well, they’re convenient.”
“Where do you live?”
“In an eastern city.”
“Oh. I live in a western city.”
“It is nice,” he said. “From my window I can see a streetlight with lots of spike holes in it, from utility workers—I mean a wooden telephone pole with a streetlight on it—”
“And a few houses. The streetlight is photo-activated, and watching it come on is really one of the most beautiful things.”
“What time is it there?”
“Um—six-twelve,” he said.
“Is it dark there yet?”
“No. Is it there?”
“Not completely,” she said. “It doesn’t feel really dark to me until the little lights on my stereo receiver are the brightest things in the room. That’s not strictly true, but it sounds good, don’t you think? What hand are you holding the phone with?”
“My left,” he said.
“What are you doing with your right hand?”
“My right hand is, at the moment, my fingers are resting in the soil of a potted plant somebody gave me, that isn’t doing too well. I’m sort of moving my fingers in the soil.”
“What kind of a plant?”
“I can’t remember,” he said. “The soil has several round polished stones stuck in it. Oh wait, here’s the tag.
No, that’s just the price tag. An anonymous mystery plant.”
“You haven’t told me what
wearing,” she said.
“I am wearing … I’m wearing, well, a bathrobe, and flip-flops with blue soles and red holder-onners. I’m new to flip-flops—I mean since moving out here. They’re good in the morning for waking up. On weekends I put them on and I walk down to the corner and buy the paper, and the feeling of that thong right in the crotch of your toe—man, it pulls you together, it starts your day. It’s like putting your feet in a bridle.”
“Are you ‘into’ feet?” she asked.
“No no no no no no no no. On women? No. They’re neutral. They’re about like elbows. In my
case, I do …”
“Well, I do very often, when I’m about to come, I seem to like to rise up on the balls of my feet. It’s something about the tension of all the leg muscles and the, you know, the ass muscles, it puts all the nerves in communication, it’s as if I’m coming with my legs. On the other hand, when I do it I sometimes feel like some kind of high school teacher, bouncing on his heels, or like some kind of demagogue, rising up on tiptoe and roaring out something about destiny.”
“And then, at the very top of your
, you come into a tissue,” she said.
“The things we do for love. I knew this person, a doctor, who once told me that he liked to hyperventilate when he was masturbating, like a puppy. He got very scientific about it. He said that hyperventilating decreases the ionized calcium in the blood, alters neural conductivity, does this, does that. I tried it once. He said when you’re almost there, after panting and panting, he-a-he-a-he-a, you’re supposed to do this thing called a Valsalva, which is where you take a breath and you clamp your throat shut and push
, and if you do it right, you’re supposed to have a mind-blowing orgasm—tingling extremities, tingling roots of your hair, tingling teeth, I don’t know, the whole business. I didn’t have much success with the technique, but he was this huge man, huge coarse beard, huge arms, he loved large meatball subs, with that orange grease—and he was so big and so innocent and actually quite shy that the idea of him gasping—”
“His eyes squinted shut.”
“Right, hunched over his male organ, though I have to say I was never quite able to picture his male organ, but the idea of him intentionally, deliberately gasping and swallowing was enough to help me toward a moment or two of pleasure myself.”
“Ooo. On that very bed?”
“On this very bed.”
“But without the chenille bedspread.”
“Without the chenille bedspread, which I notice is
leaving little white pieces of fluff on my pants, mm, mm, mm, get off, you. You see, a pretentiously sexy silk bedspread from Deliques would have been more practical after all.”
“Well, right, no, I can see that the things in Deliques might be sexy,” he said. “Garters and all that. They don’t do much for me—in fact, the whole Victorian flavor of a certain kind of smirky kinkiness puts me off—but still, I have to admit that when the catalogs started coming, week after week, early fall, midfall, late fall, this persistent gush of half-dressed women flowing toward me in the mail, on such expensive paper, with the bee-stung lips and all that, it did start to interest me.”
“Ah, now you’re admitting it,” she said. “The male models are quite good-looking, too.”
“Well, but still for me it wasn’t the lace hemi-demi-camisoles or any of that. I’ll tell you what it was, in fact. It was this one picture of a woman wearing a loose green shirt, lying on her back, with her legs in the air, crossed at the ankles, wearing a pair of tights. Not black tights. I was, I was absolutely entranced by this picture. I remember coming home from work and sitting at the kitchen table, studying this picture for about … ten minutes, reading the little description of the tights, looking at the picture again, reading, looking. She had very long legs. Now, did I have anybody I could buy these tights for? No, not really. Not at that moment. They were made of a certain kind of stitch, not chenille, not chenille. Pointelle!
She was wearing these beigey-green pointelle tights. See, to me the word ‘tights’ is much more exciting than just ‘stockings.’ Anyway I went into the living room and put the phone on the floor, and then I lay down on the floor next to the phone and I just studied this shot, went through the rest of the catalog, but back to this one picture again, until my arms started to get tired from holding the pages in the air, and I put the catalog facedown on my chest, and I went into a state of pure bliss, rolling my head back and forth on the rug. If you roll your head back and forth on the floor it usually increases any feeling of awe or wonder that you’ve got going. But no tingling of the extremities, unfortunately.”