Reading more like a two-man play than a normal work of fiction, Nicholson Baker's newest reveals the unsettling and almost brutal clarity lying in layers in his dialogue. As if one was wiping a clean, new towel across a dirty window in hopes of glimpsing a sunny day outside and instead is greeted with demolished buildings and a broken landscape.
Our two characters meet in a hotel room: Jay is intent on assassinating the president and has summoned friend Ben in order to relate the details of how, when, and why he must go through with this life-changing pursuit. Jay is neither a maniac nor a latent killer, but we do learn he has had problems - with women, his children, his working situation - and this is revealed through an almost gentle exchange between the two men.
What makes the book so compellingly intriguing is the almost fairytale, childlike way in which the conversation is presented. Discussed are the pros and the cons of the plan, Ben attempting to dissuade his friend from almost certain death and the failure of completing his mission, and it's as if he's talking to a child about to knock down a log fort rather than a comrade about to put a bullet into the President of the United States.
Baker is a devotee of dialogue as storytelling device, and several of his earlier works including Vox and The Mezzanine follow a simple template.
From start to finish, Checkpoint takes barely two hours to read. But in the hands of a master wordsmith, one walks away feeling more fulfilled than if he/she had spent days on a much longer piece. A beautiful little work full of the weirdness and simple tragedies that inhabit so many of Nicholson's books.