Sex and the adult cerebellum have tended to be Nicholson Baker's cherished subjects, and not necessarily in that order. In The Everlasting Story of Nory
, however, he turns his literary microscopy in an entirely new direction, exploring the consciousness of a child. Nory, we are told, "was a nine-year-old girl from America with straight brown bangs and brown eyes. She was interested in dentistry or being a paper engineer when she grew up." This future dentist or paper engineer is also ensconced for a year in the English town of Threll, where her family is taking a sabbatical from life in Palo Alto.
Baker's novel is endearing, entertaining, and most of all, accurate. The author recognizes that an authentic nine-year-old is incapable of long, intricate narratives, so he divides Nory's story into short (and comically abrupt) chapters. He never credits Nory with precocious wisdom or insight. Instead, Baker concentrates on exactly how a nine-year-old mind works. There is, for instance, that wonderful literalism, which subjects a cliché to strict, heartbreaking scrutiny: "Nory suspected that the straw that broke the camel's back was an unsensible idea anyway, because first of all, stop and think of that poor camel. How could it happen? Doesn't he have something to say about the situation? Also, camels' backs are pretty strong things. If you've ridden on them, you know that they can support at least two people, if not three."
Nory slowly makes friends at school, where she's exposed to the usual level of childish cruelty. She fills us in on her family and plays with her kid brother, Frank (a.k.a. Littleguy). And for a large portion of the book she regales us with stories, which are short on narrative logic and long on amusing malapropisms. But this compulsive teller of tales worries about how to keep her material straight in her head: "You live your life always in the present. And even in the present, this day, dozens and hundreds of tiny things happen, so many that by the end of the day you can't make a list of them. You lose track of them unless something reminds you." No Nicholson Baker fan can read that rather touching thought without thinking of The Mezzanine and Room Temperature--novels in which the author seemed intent on recording precisely those "dozens and hundreds" of minuscule events. The Everlasting Story of Nory, then, is partially a meditation on what lasts, and what doesn't. "You can't mummify a nice memory in someone's head," Nory announces. You can, however, keep one alive, as Baker has done in this deeply charming and delightful book. --James Marcus
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"Baker has created a world in which imagination still gets the better of its new roommate, reason. . . . [The Everlasting Story of Nory is] a map of the 9-year-old mind, drawn perfectly to scale." --Daily News
"Baker turn[s] his celebrated powers. . .on the strange inner life of an American girl. . . . Nory is as large as life and twice as
natural." --The New York Times Book Review
"Thoughtful and daft, sure-footed and tentative. . . . [The Everlasting Story of Nory is] pitch-perfect." --The Wall Street Journal
"Tender, insightful, and hilarious." --Harper's Bazaar