The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
This book follows the story of Howie, a typical American corporate employee, on his lunch break one day during the week. He goes to get a hot dog, stops to buy a cookie, milk, and replacement shoelaces, and takes the escalator back up to his office. Spoiler alert: this is the plot of the story. This is literally all that happens.
However, what makes this novel brilliant is the fact that because it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness format, it covers all of Howie’s thoughts over this brief period of time. Howie muses about the history of the milk straw, the coincidence of both of his shoelaces breaking on the same day, the reasoning behind the perforations of paper towels, the pattern of small talk necessary when running into a coworker on the way to lunch versus in the bathroom at the office… and more. He examines, in detail, all of the mundane elements that most people may think about for a millisecond in passing but don’t take the time to really contemplate. But Howie also analyzes deeper ideas about life in general, and his narrative provides a profound example of the human experience.
The Mezzanine is the sort of book that you will either adore or detest. It’s very well-written, with brilliant construction on Baker’s part. Howie’s thoughts flow naturally from topic to topic, and move seamlessly between the present and his past recollections. Additionally, Baker uses language to describe everyday items in ways that are completely new, so that you end up thinking about said objects differently. His use of complex vocabulary is also impressive.
Some elements of the book may not appeal to everyone. There is no real plot and there is little character development because the whole novel takes place over the span of about an hour. The book also includes massive footnotes. Seriously, the footnotes are about 35% of the novel. I happened to love them because oftentimes they were both funny and thought-provoking, but it can get tedious when most of the page is a footnote or when said footnote sprawls out over three to four pages.
One of the main complaints about this novel is that it is too “boring.” I disagree. I absolutely loved The Mezzanine. This book makes you think. It’s short, but don’t let that fool you - it took me much longer to read than I expected because it forces you to stop and contemplate the ideas that it brings up. Howie’s thoughts are both intriguing and humorous, and as I mentioned earlier, the entire book is written in a way that is complex yet entertaining. I highly recommend at least giving it a try, even if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. Despite it’s lack of plot (or perhaps because of it), The Mezzanine is a fantastic piece of literature that you will remember for years after you finish it.