Sunday, May 4, 2008

Checkpoint

by Nicholson Baker 
Chatto & Windus 2004 

Checkpoint is the latest novel from US author Nicholson Baker. Having thoroughly enjoyed Vox(1992), essentially a transcript of two intellectuals on a phone-sex line, I was glad to catch up with Baker's latest offering. 

Checkpoint consists of a conversation between two people, one of whom is planning to assassinate George W. Bush. They meet in a hotel room in Washington, discuss politics and chat about their families. After an hour or so they order a bottle of wine and call it a day. It sounds too simple to be a novel, but it's actually the simplicity that makes the work shine. When almost everything in print at the moment has some kind of slant, some taint of censorship, Checkpoint is blatantly honest. Baker hates Bush? Well great, that's a pretty natural reaction, one I can certainly associate with. With so few people on the American (or Australian) left actually saying what they're feeling, reading Checkpoint is like a breath of fresh air. 

Baker illustrates the dilemma of the left through the writing of superb dialogue. He sets about the task of capturing a quintessential hour or two, and representing it as accurately as possible in the novel. It's remarkable how real the conversation feels, as it slips fluidly from the salient to the stupid, the political to the tangential. The satire is very subtle, but always funny and will have you laughing through the whole work. The innovations are commendable, for example Jay keeps his bullets with a picture of the president, claiming they're homing bullets. With the point made the transcript finishes, making one think of minimalist art. Only what needs to be said is said in a Nicholson Baker novel. 

So read Checkpoint for its humanity, originality and its pertinence. My only concern is that Jay is too weak a role model. Though I wholly condemn assassination (it's alright to joke about it) I couldn't help feeling Jay should be out there kicking some ass rather than getting talked into that glass of wine.

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