I had never read a Nicholson Baker novel, but I enjoyed Human Smoke, his pacifist history of the Second World War immensely, although admittedly some of my enjoyment was derived less from the book soi-même than from the absolutely histrionic denunciations it produced in critics across the political spectrum, who climbed on top of each other to blazon their universal conviction that WWII was the single most edifying event in the history of the human species. Frankly, Baker's novels, what I knew of them, seemed like they would be cloyingly obsessed with minutiae, but I have been reading The Mezzanine, his first novel, and have found it to be absolutely compelling, a trove of finely turned sentences, one of those great, rare workplace novels in which the offices where we spend so much of our time are atomized and examined as societies in their own right. I read half of it on the bus in one morning, finished it in the evening. It is, additionally, one of the finest portrayals of filial and paternal affection that I've yet come across, and this is no small feat. Tolstoy's observation about happy and sad families overstates it, but it's true that affections of the unromantic kind are more selfsame and harder to render distinctly in writing than unhappiness, disunion, disarray, and hatred. There is a long footnote digression in The Mezzanine where the narrator begins by recalling the doorknobs of his childhood home and his father's habit of hanging his ties on the knobs all over the house. He remembers his father's excellent taste in ties. It leads him to remember a recent dinner with his father and a few relatives where dad compliments him on a newly purchased tie, one of the first that he's ever bought for himself, and from these few quotidian memories, Baker builds a family's world, a father finding a way to express love and pride in his son, and a son, now a young man, feeling genuine joy on hearing it.