The Everlasting Story of Nory

The Everlasting Story of Nory

4.3 3
by Nicholson Baker
     
 

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Our supreme fabulist of the ordinary now turns his attention on a 9-year-old American girl and produces a novel as enchantingly idiosyncratic as any he has written. Nory Winslow wants to be a dentist or a designer of pop-up books. She likes telling stories and inventing dolls. She has nightmares about teeth, which may explain her career choice. She is going to

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Overview

Our supreme fabulist of the ordinary now turns his attention on a 9-year-old American girl and produces a novel as enchantingly idiosyncratic as any he has written. Nory Winslow wants to be a dentist or a designer of pop-up books. She likes telling stories and inventing dolls. She has nightmares about teeth, which may explain her career choice. She is going to school in England, where she is mocked for her accent and her friendship with an unpopular girl, and she has made it through the year without crying.

Nicholson Baker follows Nory as she interacts with her parents and peers, thinks about God and death-watch beetles, and dreams of cows with pointed teeth. In this precocious child he gives us a heroine as canny and as whimsical as Lewis Carroll's Alice and evokes childhood in all its luminous weirdness.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

Charles Taylor

It's no disrespect to Nicholson Baker to suggest that his new novel, The Everlasting Story of Nory, comes as close as anything else in American literature to Mr. Rogers. If you can get past the layers of anti-Mr. Rogers sentiment that starts accumulating around the time you're 7 or 8 -- when you decide you're too cool to watch him -- and then continues with all the jokes and parodies you encounter as an adult, you might be able to remember what it was like to be 4 or 5 and have one adult who wasn't some asshole in a clown suit talk reasonably to you, tell you your fears didn't mean you were a baby. The Everlasting Story of Nory is dedicated to Baker's daughter Alice, "my informant," he calls her, and that dedication tells you everything you need to know. This story of a 9-year-old American girl's term at an English school seems intended both as a guide to help a child navigate a child's dilemmas and terrors and as new fodder for the quality that most characterizes Baker's writing -- his generous curiosity.

We can probably look forward to reviews claiming the book is a retreat from the sexual explicitness of Vox and The Fermata, probably from the same critics who, when those books came out, cleared their throats, wagged their fingers and intoned that sexual fantasies and a cheerful celebration of the joys of pornography were not fitting subjects for "serious" writers. But in all of Baker's writing he seeks out the very texture of experience through the pleasures or irritations of expertly rendered minutiae. That's as true of this novel about a schoolgirl's interactions with her family, teachers and schoolmates as it is of Baker's forays into sex. The technical triumphs of his observations aren't empty flourishes; they always work back into the experiences of his characters.

Those flourishes run throughout Nory, from his appropriation of a child's malapropisms ("pacific" for "specific," for example), to the rituals of exorcising a nightmare (or keeping one at bay), to the strangeness of encountering a schoolmate outside of school, to the politics of how kids treat the child designated to be the weirdo and the way kids treat the kids who decide to be nice to the outcast. See if this passage doesn't bring back a forgotten pleasure: "Not to mention that for the first time in a very long time Nory had a wonderful loose tooth. If she bent it past a certain position, she could feel the sharp edge of it that was usually hidden under the gums, and there was a distinct salty taste of blood in her mouth."

It's easy to see this book as the work of a writer who, re-encountering children's literature as a parent, sets out to pay homage to its deceptive simplicity, the effortlessness with which the best of it engages a reader. (In the last few years, when it's seemed like there's nothing to read, I've been saved by the kids' books I didn't get to as a kid: Francis Hodgson Burnett, C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, the wonderful Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner.) More's the pity that Baker has found so little narrative momentum, that the quality of the episodes are highly variable and that Nory, for all her exemplary behavior, remains a bit of a cipher. You could say the same of the character of Oliver Twist, but there's no grand narrative surrounding Nory. Baker has written a book of bits. What holds them together is the playful decency at the heart of his sense of rediscovery. -- Salon

Library Journal
Baker's Nory (Eleanor) Winslow is an imaginative nine-year-old American girl who is spending a school year in England with her family. Naturally, she attends a British school while there. Baker (The Fermata) follows Nory's trials and glories throughout the year, focusing entirely on the child's inner life and perspective on the new world around her. Often, her thoughts center on her friends, especially, one named Pamela who is being made the butt of a campaign of bullying and mental cruelty by her schoolmates. Nory bravely refuses to give in to pressure to be cruel to Pamela, even risking becoming unpopular herself. Unfortunately, Nory is a little too Shirley Temple-ishly good to be an entirely sympathetic character, and her family is utterly perfect. Furthermore, the stream-of-consciousness device of describing Nory's thoughts, while occasionally charming, becomes 'everlastingly' tiresome. -- Kay Hogan, University of Alabama Library, Birmingham
The New Yorker
Baker once again explores the imperfect grooves of consciousness -- this time in the person of an endearing nine-year-old American girl who has moved to England with her parents and her toddler brother, Frank, a.k.a. Littleguy. Her stories are filled with perfect misspellings, non-sequitur endings, and interesting subjects of all sizes -- like the deathwatch beetles that eat lead in Threll Cathedral, and the edge of the universe, which has lots of walls and fields and cows ('She kept walking and climbing. . .getting more and more bothered by the infinity of it').
Robert McCrum
Much of the novel is pleasantly comic and, as always with Baker...the delight is found in the details and the madcap invention.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
The author of The Mezzzanine, among others, offers an extended dramatic monologue by a nine-year-old American girl living in England, a plotless series of riffs exploring the curiosities of a life among English-speaking foreigners. It's a promising idea, and Baker, a dedicated miniaturist who got an entire novel out of a trip to buy a pair of shoelaces, ought to have found such a venue congenial. There are dangers, however, that he wasn't entirely able to avoid. For one thing, tininess is not inevitably interesting, but can seem merely trivial. 'Babies learn the words for their feet and toes and fingers quite early,' his nine-year-old Nory observes, 'because they can hold them close to their faces, and they learn about their eyes and nose and mouth because they are on their faces, but for some reason they are never terribly interested in their ankles.' This leads into a consideration of how Achilles' mother dipped him 'head-first into the Watersticks,' and, Nory explains, how 'she held him by pinching hard on the back part of the foot, above his heel. If one is delighted by the misprision of 'Watersticks' for the Water Styx, and persuaded by the youthful trendiness of such adverbs as 'tremendously' and 'totally," then this extended take offers a certain low-level charm. For those with less tolerance for the narrator's cuteness (or the author's delight in his own imposture), that charm is likely to wear thin very quickly. And once that happens, the reader will start to notice all the small errors, which in this kind of performance are nearly fatal. Nory remembers her fear of the Tweety monster, which was '`just simply a monster version of Tweety-bird in a Sylvester and Tweetytape—Tweety turned into it when he drank a special potion. No reason to be scared of a casual little cartoon." What, the word casual from a nine-year-old? It rings wrong, totally.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679763758
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/28/1999
Pages:
226
Sales rank:
1,455,041
Product dimensions:
5.21(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.63(d)

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