By Nicholson Baker

Dealing with childhood must be a great challenge for any writer. While childhood itself is a universal experience, from an adult perspective it is a foreign country.

The Everlasting Story of Nory is an imaginative re-creation of this special world. It takes the form of a series of sketches in the life of Eleanor (Nory) Winslow, a nine-year-old American girl attending school in England. At home she cares for her parents and younger brother (Littleguy) while writing dramas about princesses and paupers. At school she meets new friends and campaigns for the acceptance of an unpopular classmate named Paula.

In short, she is a perfect little girl. Too perfect? Well, it is her story, after all.

Doubts about where Nicholson Baker's head was at after last year's neo-porn Vox are soon put to rest. The most impressive thing about this book is his skilful handling of Nory's voice. Although Baker uses the third person, he tailors the style to fit Nory's bubbly stream of thought.

It is a delusion that anyone speaks in prose. A child's voice only makes this more obvious. Nory's language is closer to poetry - a rambling, rhythmical babble that emphasizes repetition, echo, and rhyme. In addition, the semi-literate nature of a child's language introduces punning and word-play into even the simplest observations. As Nory herself puts it, "if you think about a kid's language, it can mean about eighty million different things."

In most books as seemingly simple as this you can be sure there is more going on than meets the eye. Perhaps inevitably it is a book about books, a story about the telling of stories. But it is also a psychological study of surprising depth. Baker's Nory, as we get to know her through her stories, dreams, and relations with others, is a wonderful mix of insecurity and idealism, protectiveness and derring-do. She is one of the most original and memorable creations in recent fiction, and her story one of the best.

Review first published June 13, 1998.