A little more orthodox

INTERVIEWER

Have you ever been tempted to write books that are a little more orthodox?

BAKER

Oh, absolutely. Before I wrote The Mezzanine I tried to write a murder mystery. I’ve always wanted to write a spy novel. I read a lot of Len Deighton at one time, and a lot of John Dickson Carr.

INTERVIEWER

What happened?

BAKER

Something comes over me in trying to write the opening paragraphs — it’s actually a physical sensation of unhappiness. It physically hurts me to plan out a series of reversals, things that will go wrong. It just doesn’t come naturally. My murder-mystery plot was extremely elaborate, with lots of strange clues involving balsa wood, and that was going to be fun, I thought. But then there was the dead body. The dead-body part was the thing I just didn’t go for. You have to start with it. If you don’t have the dead body, you do not have the murder mystery.

INTERVIEWER

Isn’t The Mezzanine, in a way, just a giant, overcompact mystery novel?

BAKER

It’s a novel about the mystery of what life actually is — life when there is no corpse to propel people along and make them lock the door and say, We’ll all stay here until we figure it out!

— From The Art of Fiction No. 212
Nicholson Baker interview
The Paris Review

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