Image: Happy War © Kii Arens
I WAS BORN IN 1957, the Year of the Fire Cock in Chinese astrology. Cocks (or Roosters as we're sometimes called) are considered keen observers and dreamers, so I guess it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that 1957 produced a bumper crop of writers: Lionel Shriver, Richard Powers, Nick Hornby, Frank Miller, Anchee Min and Lorrie Moore to name a few, as well as artists as diverse as Spike Lee, Sid Vicious, Boy George, and Ai Weiwei. 1957 was the year the Dodgers played their last game in Brooklyn, Wham-O introduced the Frisbee, and Sputnik orbited the earth: can it be it a coincidence that the Year of the Fire Cock is the same year that the Soviets successfully penetrated the stratosphere with a massive phallus filled with rocket fuel?
A few years ago I began to read books by other writers born in '57 and I discovered surprising, although subtle, similarities. There is a shared iconoclasm, an aesthetic of transgression, and a playfulness in the work of my fellow Fire Cocks. These writers all possess an open-mindedness about the transformative power of desire, and a willingness to write bawdy, sometimes raunchy sex scenes. It doesn't seem to matter what language they write in or what country or culture they come from. Fire Cockiness is evident in the down-and-dirty cocaine-fueled reptile orgy in Salvadoran writer Horacio Castellanos Moyas's Dance with Snakes; in the urbane, playful study of desire in Egyptian writer Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian Building; and in the whack-a-doodle mayhem in the novels of Christopher Moore. But for me, the writer who stands out, who is unafraid to explore the heave and ho of sex, the real Cock-of-the-Walk is Nicholson Baker.
Because he was born in January 1957, Baker is technically a Fire Monkey, but my acupuncturist explained that astrological influences don't begin and end on exact dates — some overlap occurs — , which means that Baker is a unique combination of Monkey under the influence of Fire Cock. Baker was, without a doubt, monkeying around in his early sexcapade romps Vox and The Fermata. But with his new book, House of Holes, he seemingly comes under the direct influence of the Fire Cock and cranks the fantasy and explicit sex to a level rarely seen in what we typically call "literary fiction."
The novel — or "book of raunch" — doesn't follow a traditional plot; no narrative structure or protagonist on a heroic journey pulls us through the story. Instead, Baker serves up a collection of magical realist fables, a series of saucy, hyper-sexual sci-fi-tinged vignettes that tap into that part of the brain where our nastiest fantasies and most pungent desires reside. Think Gabriel Garcia Márquez directed by the Mitchell Brothers.
The book is so unrelentingly erotic and explicit that it could, if you're not careful, cause chafing. In fact, if you're a heterosexual male and don't have a boner by page 40, I would recommend you visit a urologist and get checked out. Seriously. Female readers might find the prose more moist than purple.
The novel begins when a young woman named Shandee — all the characters seem to have names most ...