The thing about fantasies is that everyone has his own. So while Baker (Vox) attempts to be all inclusive in this collection of short vignettes that describe the adventures of randy characters sent to the hedonistic titular resort, in the end what's left is Baker's take on erotica but not much else. While some of Baker's characters, like Shandee, who's on a journey to return a dismembered arm to a man who willingly lost it at the House of Holes in exchange for the enlargement of another body part (guess which one), appear throughout the book, most of the others are only around until they find some form of satisfaction. The result is a wearisome stream of concupiscent characters spouting off filthy words with little promise of any sort of, well, climax. Prurient subject matter aside, Baker's writing is strong and, at times, comical. His characters poke fun at the awkward nature of their situations and dirty dialogue, and in a sea of middle-school style terminology, some lines—like when "Dave angled out his Malcolm Gladwell" at the 12-screen adult theater—are clever enough to warrant a smile. Still, living in the Internet age, where indulging wacky desires is a given, reading a ramble about other people's is more of a turn off than a turn on. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“Truly uproarious . . . Baker is one of the most consistently enticing writers of our time . . . Readers with a fondness for richly ridiculous diction, witty provocation and graphic sexual prose that celebrates desire, frailty and the comedy of life will not be disappointed.” —Sam Lipsyte, front cover of the New York Times Book Review
“Wild and hallucinatory . . . Every page offers something smart and amusing . . . Full of fearlessness, cheerfulness, wit and brio.” —Meg Wolitzer, The Washington Post
“A joyful, almost Chaucerian book . . . Had Dr. Seuss been a slightly insane pornographer, he might have written a book like this.” —Tom Bissell, GQ
“A sexy, disturbing, funny book . . . It may also challenge the usual reader of literary novels with its sheer dazzling excess of imagination.” —Katie Roiphe, Slate
“House of Holes is as funny as it is filthy and breathes new life into the tired, fossilized conventions of pornography in a way that suggests a deep, almost scholarly familiarity with the ancient tropes.” —Charles McGrath, The New York Times Magazine
“[Baker] escorts us through a surprisingly delightful session of all things benevolently sexual—everything’s consensual, of age and legal, even if, in most cases, physically impossible. . . . We’d recommend it to nearly everyone we know, and no one we don’t.” —Tim Grobaty, Contra-Costa Times
“About as fun and thoroughly unpretentious as literature gets.” —Michael Pucci, New York Journal of Books
“A permanent tribute to both the idiocy and surreal inventiveness of sexual desire. . . . Attention must be paid. And laughter must ensue—and rather a lot of it, too.” —Jeff Simon, Buffalo News
“This is a funny, frisky novel that brings sexy back in a way that Justin Timberlake never dreamed.” —Mark Haskell Smith, Los Angeles Review of Books
If you are familiar with Baker's work (e.g., Vox), you understand that his prose ranges from the sexually provocative to the obscene, depending on the paragraph. At the same time, underneath the pornographic veneer of Baker's writing is an engaging commentary on society's distinction between sexual and aesthetic experience. Here, he uses an alternative reality, the house of holes, as a playground of latent desires in which characters experience their most erotic fantasies. The characters travel to this place, drawn with a touch of the magical, through portals such as washing machines and wooden sculptures. A world seemingly constructed from sexual energy, the house of holes encourages individuals to indulge rather than repress their sexual desire. Though roles and duties exist in this world, taboos are nonexistent. Purposefully explicit and outlandish, Baker playfully critiques the modern, mechanical portrayal of sex with unrestrained erotic experience. VERDICT The casual reader may find Baker's sexually charged diatribe overwhelming, while others will find this open expression of eroticism refreshing and honest. [See Prepub Alert, 2/21/11.]—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH
Baker returns to the eroticism of his earlierVox(1995) andThe Fermata(1994) but kicks it up about a dozen notches.
There's no plot to speak of here—just couplings in every conceivable (and many inconceivable) way. Some characters recur from chapter to chapter, yet they're fairly interchangeable, and Baker aims to disconcert readers with breezy surrealism. In the opening chapter, Shandee finds an arm on a field trip with her Geology 101 class, and this appendage quickly informs her (because it's able to write) that it's known as "Dave's arm." She discovers it can give considerable pleasure, the kind of sexual climax that all his characters seek. The title alludes to a kind of "portkey" that sucks characters through various holes (straws, the backs of dryers, putting greens) into a phantasmagorical alternative universe presided over by the formidable Lila. In this "house of holes," suffice it to say that weird things are the norm: Reversible crotch transfers, for example, result in gender-bendering; women have sex with headless men; men hump holes in a sex field; we hear rumors of the Cock Ness monster; a character named Rhumpa visits the "pornmonster," who grows bigger the more that porn is sucked out of the world...and these are just a few of the exploits coyly alluded to—others are even more graphic and bizarre. Even a put-together Dave makes an appearance toward the end.
Baker explores a fine line between eroticism and pornography here, and were it not for his wit and verbal play, the latter would win out.
…the book reads like good-natured, priapic, free-form performance art…sex is a valid, even profound topic for a novel, for it can show us who we are when we think almost no one else is watching. And humor is an essential ingredient for such a book, too, if only because without it, we'd be lost. House of Holes, though exhausting, is full of fearlessness, cheerfulness, wit and brio. Shame, refreshingly, gets little play.
The Washington Post
…hilarious and extremely dirty…If this sounds like a world dreamed up by a man with smut and silliness foremost on his mind, whose lewdness often saunters right into the realms of pure pornography, well, bingo. But since Baker is also one of the most consistently enticing writers of our time, you take the ride. Readers with a fondness for richly ridiculous diction, witty provocation and graphic sexual prose that celebrates desire, frailty and the comedy of life will not be disappointed.
The New York Times