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A Box Of Matches Hardcover – 30 Jan 2003
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One man's simple, colloquial meditations on his past, his family, and his life's daily minutia are the substance of Nicholson Baker's A Box of Matches.
Feeling that life is passing him by, Emmett, a middle-aged medical textbook editor, decides to wake up early each day to sit by a fire in his country house and record his thoughts in a diary. "Good morning," Emmett begins, "its January and its 4.17 am, and I'm going to sit here in the dark." From this vantage point, Emmett reflects stream-of-consciousness style on whatever occurs to him, no matter how mundane: his recent trip to Home Depot, how he met his wife, the habits of the family duck. Routines, such as how he makes his morning coffee in the dark or picks up his underwear with his toes, are described with childlike reverence and directness.
All told, nothing much happens in A Box of Matches, which seems to be the point. Baker is more interested in the idea that for many, life is made up of such apparent trivialities, and that only by pausing to appreciate them can anyone gain any lasting satisfaction. Baker emphasises this through the moments of understated wisdom and joy that Emmett derives from ordinary occurrences, such as the daylight through the window: "a simple light that goes everywhere but with no heat, aware that it is taken for granted and content to be so."
This is the philosophical equivalent of a one-joke premise, however, and there are moments when Emmett's naiveté and laundry list-like narrative wear thin. Likely understanding this, Baker has wisely kept things short. A curious, often charming novel, A Box of Matches will inspire some readers, while inspiring frustration in others. --Ross Doll, Amazon.com
Baker is possibly at his best when writing about small things, or about details. He is good on sex too, but a box of matches is more his sort of thing. For all of life is here, in a box of matches. Or all the potential of life. Potential for what? For the study of the mind of the average mid-life male, possibly the most exotic and fascinating of all sub-species of the human. Baker's loyal readership will be delighted by this book. Some members of that privileged group will lament the lack of sex; others will celebrate its relative absence. Nobody who has read him before will be disappointed, but perhaps the luckiest people are the ones who are just about to discover for themselves the wonderful Nicholson Baker.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
So I bought it, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's always a pleasure to read a book that, rather than striving and failing to be the Great American Novel, instead meets its own humbler goals. "A Box Of Matches" is full of fresh and meditative observations on a quiet domestic life. The narrator's obvious love for his wife and children (who spend most of the book either asleep or padding around discreetly in the background) saves the book from sliding towards solipsism, and his pets in particular are beautifully drawn. It's not entirely true to say there is no plot - over the course of the book Emmett's comforting suicide fantasies melt away, and one can try reading between the lines for a better understanding of who he is.
But really it's Baker's gifts for imagery and anecdote that make every page a pleasure, dare I say the literary equivalent of basking in front of a warm fire.
Charming and domestic - one so wants to believe in this. Is the $900 rug real? Is the duck? Is Wayne Thiebaud?? (Yes.) When I got to '[my wife] shifted her warmly pajamaed bottom towards me and I steered through the night with my hand on her hip' I had to check his wife wasn't really called Claire. I came a cropper with the selected (aka 'vintage') Baker, but if he can keep this up.. It does spiral into platitude, rather, by #7 - but heck, platitude and pedantry are what he (and we) are about, aren't they? Now if Claire would just sqeeze up I'll snuggle down with the pair of 'em
In concept, it may seem a daring move. But never underestimate the consummate observation and affirmation which sparkles within Nicholson Baker’s prose.
“A box of matches” can be summed up as a snapshot of a middle aged man from Maine getting up between 4-5 am to light a fire in his grate, in the dark, making coffee and reflecting on his life and current concerns. Are we sleepy yet? That’s your plot; full stop.
But wait, wake up. Recounts of the loving wife and two fast growing kids tells of a family man and over-hours publishing editor who cares; he’ll be sure to be ready to drive them to school, get the shopping in and earn a serious wage. Tales of the pet duck and the pet ant are laugh out loud drollness gone mad. The matter of fact of human nature with children, parents, grandparents, love, hope, sincerity and bodily functions are all here. Was that bodily functions? All will sound a chord somewhere, in an endearing and thoroughly witty and smile inducing way.
Strike a light, settle back and be reflected in the glow. An amazing short dazzle of inspiration. Don’t miss it.
A Box of Matches is concerned with the minutae of one person’s life through a small window of time across a few days. The beauty here is that Baker has discarded much of the brash intellectualism of his previous books and just tells it as it is. This book has a much more human feel to it, and there is almost an air of sadness throughout the book. The tragedy of the everyday is felt in the cadences of the prose, and captures the atmosphere (the dark kitchen, the fire growing each morning) perfectly. That’s not to say there is no humour in this book – I found myself laughing out loud at some of the anecdotes within, particularly concerning his cat. The narrator’s duck, beautifully described, is a superb character.
The book begins and ends quietly, and not much happens on the surface, but it will stay with you for a very long time.
The narrative takes us through the motions of each of these mornings, and the subsequent day, through his thoughts, and via a series of flashbacks, over some of the events of his life.
Will it keep you on the edge of your seat? No. Is it worth reading for sheer skill of the storytelling? I think so