This is probably my favorite book from Nicholson Baker, the modern master of minutiae. Mr. Baker has a gift for capturing the essence of habits, thoughts, reactions, and objects that are so small, so insignificant that most people don't ever notice them ... and yet when Mr. Baker puts them on the page, he gets it just right.
None of the half dozen of so books I've read from Mr. Baker sound like much when the plots are summarized, and that is certainly the case with The Fermata. The book's story line is based on the ability of the 35-year-old narrator Arno Strine to somehow stop time, and most of the pages are used up with explorations of how he decides what he can and can't do while time is stopped.
The unimpressive story line means that the value of the book depends almost entirely on Mr. Baker's ability to keep the prose engaging. Sometimes it doesn't work (as with his more recent effort Box of Matches) and sometimes it works well, as with The Fermata. As always, what holds it together when it works is Mr. Baker's memory for trivia, his intelligence, and his eye for detail: witness the title: "Fermata," the noun form of the word "stop" in Italian, is also a musical term that means holding a note longer than the time value -- a perfect name for a book with this kind of plot.
Ultimately, my criticism of The Fermata is one shared by all of Mr. Baker's books and all literature based on prose rather than memorable plots or characters. In my mind, they're like the old cliché about Chinese food, which tastes great but leaves you hungry a few hours later. In the case of this book, the prose keeps the pages turning, but when you're through, very little of it sticks with you.