Paul Chowder is a middle-aged poet who's looking for a new medium, and his background in music makes songwriting seem like a viable option. Chowder wants to write a protest song but keeps circling back to love songs, perhaps because he is still in love with his ex-girlfriend. He struggles with life's daily distractions while searching for his future, and his constancy pays off at last. Baker's sequel to The Anthologist is presented as a stream of consciousness monolog. Random thoughts and associations intermingle as the story slowly unfolds, allowing Baker to interject a wealth of information about music, composers, poets, and traveling sprinklers. The author narrates the story beautifully. VERDICT Recommended. ["Baker, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, is always daring, and what results here is a witty and enticingly coherent blend of the everyday and the profound," read the starred review of the Blue Rider hc, LJ 9/15/13.]—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence
In Baker's The Anthologist, Paul Chowder tried to launch a collection of formal verse. Here he's eager to write a pop song or a protest song or, ideally, both. Baker will get the music right, as he played bassoonist (briefly) with the Rochester Philharmonic.
Baker foregoes the kinky eroticism of Vox and House of Holes this time and gives readers a sweet and idiosyncratic novel about the protagonist of The Anthologist (2009), a poet and pop songwriter manqué. Although Paul Chowder's life is not exactly coming apart, it's also not what it could be. His girlfriend, Roz, has taken up with someone else, he's become less committed to writing poetry, and to make a little extra money, he shrink-wraps boats. (You've seen them, with the tight, white plastic....) On the other hand, he enjoys going to Quaker meetings, and he's really getting into music. We learn he used to be a serious student of the bassoon, but in college, he switched to the study of poetry and now has some regrets. What Chowder would like is a hit song, and he looks for inspiration everywhere. While driving, for example, he sees a truck with an "Oversize Load" banner and begins to improvise: "It was big/It was bad/It was round/It could explode//Yeah, he was driving down the road/with an oversize load." He's also recently taken up the guitar and hopes to impress his neighbors as well as Roz with his musical prowess. Most of all, Chowder is an observer of things and people, and he still has a poet's fascination with words, "garbanzo" being one of his new favorites. His musical erudition is impressive, and the attentive reader will receive quite an education, ranging from the reason for the bassoon solo at the beginning of The Rite of Spring to the brilliance of Victoria de los Angeles' version of Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 to the poignancy of Jonatha Brooke's rendition of "In the Gloaming." In sparkling and witty prose, Baker reminds readers why he's one of the masters of the contemporary novel.