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The Fermata Paperback – January 24, 1995

79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Fermata is the most risky of Nicholson Baker's emotional histories. His narrator, Arno Strine, is a 35-year-old office temp who is writing his autobiography. "It's harder than I thought!" he admits. His "Fold-powers" are easier; he can stop the world and use it as his own pleasure ground. Arno uses this gift not for evil or material gain (he would feel guilty about stealing), though he does undress a good number of women and momentarily place them in compromising positions--always, in his view, with respect and love. Anyone who can stop time and refer in self-delight to his "chronanisms" can't be all bad! Like Baker's other books, The Fermata gains little from synopsis. The pleasure is literally in the text. What's memorable is less the sex and the sex toys (including the "Monasticon," in the shape of a monk holding a vibrating manuscript) than Arno's wistful recollections of intimacy: the noise, for instance, of his ex-girlfriend's nail clipper, "which I listened to in bed as some listen to real birdsong."

From Publishers Weekly

Baker's ingenious fifth novel, about a 35-year-old temp worker who stops time to act out elaborate sexual fantasies, was a PW bestseller.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 303 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 24, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679759336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679759331
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've written thirteen books, plus an art book that I published with my wife, Margaret Brentano. The most recent one is a comic sex novel called House of Holes, which came out in August 2011. Before that, in 2009, there was The Anthologist, about a poet trying to write an introduction to an anthology of rhyming verse, and before that was Human Smoke, a book of nonfiction about the beginning of World War II. My first novel, The Mezzanine, about a man riding an escalator at the end of his lunch hour, came out in 1988. I'm a pacifist. Occasionally I write for magazines. I grew up in Rochester, New York and went to Haverford College, where I majored in English. I live in Maine with my family.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Tanja L. Walker on March 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Nicholson Baker is a master at taking what seems unusal, bizarre, or even ordinary (as in "The Everlasting Story of Nory") and make it interesting, fascinating and exciting. What Arno does during his "Fold" time is at once creative, enticing, and sweet. And Arno has an amazingly convincing way of justifying what seems immoral, to the point where I can actually wish to be one of the women he undresses and plays around with during one of his "Drops." Not for the inhibited, but this book is a must read for anyone who has ever asked him or herself "if I could freeze time and do whatever I wanted..."
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Lyman on March 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
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.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By David A. Bede on August 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
After the brilliance of "Vox," I expected this book to be a pale follow-up to that instant classic. Eight years and countless re-reads later, I've changed my tune. "The Fermata" is, bar none, Baker's finest hour. Yes, it borders on pornography, but it's unusually good for that subgenre - and besides, it plays in depth on a fantasy nearly all men (and maybe women too?) have surely had at some point. If nothing else, Baker deserves kudos for taking his simple idea far beyond the middle-school titillation it could so easily have devolved into.
Stopping time in order to undress women - the very idea invites accusations of misogyny, but the genius of the book is that Baker keeps his protagonist, Arno, on the right side of that line at all times. While his hobby is undeniably invasive and lacking in respect for privacy, Arno leaves no doubt that he loves women and is in awe of them in any number of ways. His lengthy but enjoyable treatises on the minutiae of women's bodies in general, and those of his "victims" in particular, suggest a genuine and deep admiration that enables us to forgive him for having no use for personal boundaries. Rather than just treat us to egregiously detailed descriptions of female flesh, he takes time - often a lot of it - to explain just why it's all such a turn on. (For me, this is what keeps the book squarely in the realm of erotica rather than pornography.) Arno also displays a sense of ethics about his powers - never using them to humiliate or hurt anyone, still expressing regret decades later about stealing a few shrimp from a "frozen" chef as a child, always putting his subjects' clothes back exactly as he found them - that makes his one vice seem wholly forgivable by comparison to other things he is capable of.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Seamus on August 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
You can read a hundred reviews where people mention "sexual" and I still don't think they'll ever prepare you for how blatantly graphic this novel is. And it's not graphic in an erotic way, it's just detailed to the point of being absurd and somewhat hilarious. If you watch movies or HBO in this day and age, it's hard to consider things shocking, but this novel becomes pretty close. You keep thinking that the author can't possibly top himself, then 20 pages later you find the narrator doing or thinking something even more outlandish or absurd.

The plot is pretty simple: Arno is a guy with a special power. He can stop time. But, like Faustus, he doesn't use his power to achieve greatness. He doesn't do magnificent good or evil. He simply uses the power to freeze time and undress women. Sometimes he leaves them a gift or some self-penned erotica.

I don't know that I really liked this novel, but I enjoyed reading it and I would tell any person to give it a shot, even though they may end up offended by all the graphic content. Baker is an extremely gifted writer and has a firm grasp of language, but it's impossible to figure out if the character he's writing is the weirdo, or if Baker himself is the weirdo for dreaming him up.
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