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by John Q McDonald --- 28 April 2005

A Box of Matches

by Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker is a master of physical minutiae in a way that Proust is a master of tiny moments in time. In this short novel, Baker takes his early morning fire-lighting ritual as an excuse to ruminate on life in the darkness of a Maine country house. Baker, himself, is perhaps thinly disguised as Emmett, an editor of medical textbooks, father of two, and duck-owner. He decides, one day, to take to getting up at four in the morning, and uses that dark time as a way of letting his thoughts flow without the input of daylight or as little other media input as possible. This results in a sweetly smooth flow of gentle thoughts on matches, ducks, apples, marriage and more. Each short chapter opens with "Good morning, its..." and a time. One can easily imagine Emmett/Baker seated in front of a freshly-laid fire with a laptop on his lap, ticking away at the thoughts as they come to him. The duration of the book is one box of matches, a match for each day, and it is unclear if, once the box is gone, Emmett continues to enjoy this ritual. With The Mezzanine and Room Temperature, Baker established his quirky attention to detail. With this book, he seems to have brought it to an almost poetic apex. The story, such as it is, is gentle, sweet and acutely observed. Emmett's mindful ruminations are appealing on that level at which we all desire to have a few moments each day, just to let our minds wander on a calm sea.

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