The Fermata
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The Fermata

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  2,821 ratings  ·  276 reviews
This is the story of Arno Strine, a modest temporary typist, who has perfected the knack of stopping time in its tracks and taking women's clothes off. He is hard at work on his autobiography, The Fermata, which proves in the telling to be a very provocative, very funny and altogether morally confused piece of work.

Hilarious and totally original, Nicholson Baker's new nove...more
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Published August 5th 2004 by Vintage (first published February 1st 1994)
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Ex Libris by Anne FadimanAt Large and at Small by Anne FadimanShelf Life by Gary PaulsenDouble Fold by Nicholson BakerRuined By Reading by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
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24th out of 47 books — 4 voters
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Community Reviews

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Paul
It came to me in a blinding flash how almost unbearably clever this novel is. It gets panned all the time for two things:

THE FIRST CHARGE

Nicholson Baker has godlike powers over the English language, particularly when it comes to Jamesian sentence structure and the maximum ramifying of vocabulary and the application of all this to most unlikely subjects, as for instance straws (the ones through which drinks are ingested not the ones in the wind) or shoelaces and here in The Fermata he squanders h...more
Joel
Dec 10, 2010 Joel marked it as to-not-read-ever
Recommends it for: tucker max
Recommended to Joel by: loud-talking pretentious subway guy
The Douchiest Conversation I Have Ever Overheard, Or: An Over-Intellectual Hipster Talks About Sex in Such a Pretentious Way that You Suspect He Perhaps Does Not Have It All That Often - A Play in One Act

SETTING: STAIRS leading down to SUBWAY PLATFORM on Jackson Street, Chicago, Ill. It is WINTER, and everyone is dressed in HEAVY COATS and SCARVES.

THE PLAYERS: DOUCHEY HIPSTER and SILENT COMPANION

~

[We encounter DH and SC walking near the Jackson Street Blue Line subway stop. Their conversation i...more
MJ Nicholls
The Fermata doesn’t simply posit the question what would you do if you could stop time? It assumes, quite rightly, that everyone would undress and violate their fellow citizens within about four seconds, so asks instead how would you use this erotic licence to engineer love in the moving world?

Such is the problem of our hapless obsessive narrator who, like the hero in The Mezzanine, observes a pathological attention-to-detail to the minutiae of his warped inventions. Since constructing his time...more
Robyn
This book is so sexy. My copy is well-thumbed, though currently on loan. Freezing time has never been so pervy or creative. Q: Is it a book about female sexuality or male sexuality? Or is it a book about male sexuality by way of female sexuality? The key is in the ending.
Sarah Smith
This book is so smutty that I should have thought better of reading it at work on a slow day. Some passages – especially those in which Arno, the protagonist, freezes time so he can write a dirty story tailored to one momentary subject of his infatuation or another and hide it within reach so that she will find it when he unfreezes time – test the limits of what one could consider public reading material. The rest of the book considers Arno's unusual abilities from a charmed philosophical distan...more
Nicole
Aug 17, 2007 Nicole rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people not faint of heart
This is the super juiciest book I've ever read. It's still dripping down my leg. A total page turner, but you totally have to put all feminism aside. Perhaps I shouldn't have admitted this was possible for me. Anyway- the storyline centers around a man who can do the 2nd most awesome thing in the entire galaxy--2nd only to obtaining and using a tub of vanishing cream. He can make time stop at his will. It's like if Evie from Out of this World was a total perv.
Esmeralda Greene
Nicholson Baker has gotten a lot of attention with his latest book "House of Holes," with a host of highfalutin sources extolling its both its literary merit and its over-the-top eroticism. The New York Times, for example, calls it a “glorious filthfest,” and "as funny as it is filthy."

As someone with an interest both in erotica/pornography (I write the stuff) and works of high literary aspiration (um, I read the stuff), I naturally felt I had to check this dude out.

I tried the Kindle sample-sni...more
Bob Milne
Nicholson Baker's The Fermata is a strange read . . . awkward and hard-to-categorize, much less review. It's comprised of equal parts literature, science-fiction, romance, comedy, erotica, and memoir.

On the one hand, it absolutely deserves an five-star review for its sheer audacity, innovation, and mastery of language. This is a very clever, beautifully written novel that manages to deliberately meander without boring the reader. It's also a very humorous novel, not so much in a laugh-out-loud s...more
Jason Pettus
one of two books from the early 1990s to make nicholson baker a household name (the other being the even bigger-selling vox), this novel tells the tale of a dysfunctional intellectual who figures out how to stop time...then uses the ability to keep his life in a perpetual stage of suspended adolescence, as well as commenting a lot about the world at large. like the rest of his work, the fermata is a polarizing piece of fiction, one you're guaranteed to either love or hate.
Howard Vu
An entertaining, unexpectedly moving read. I recommend this to all women who want to know how the male mind thinks, especially in regard to sex. Really, I can think of no better novel about this subject. The premise, about a guy who can stop time and do whatever he pleases while the world is frozen, may seem tired at this point, but Baker uses it to often surprising ends. The protagonist at first thinks about using his gift for noble deeds, but doesn't really. That's pretty honest.
Chelsea
This was the last Nicholson Baker book I read. The fact that it is his longest and the pornographic one can't be a coincidence, right? I guess I think of NB as fatherly because he has a beard, so reading this book makes me feel only slightly less grossed out than finding my father's Playboy stash. What I learned from this book is simply a reinforcement of a notion which is pretty common sense, which is that nerds and bookworms are just as capable of being perved out as people who can't hammer an...more
Allycks
The basic idea here is awesome. Protagonist finds a way to stop time, and is able, during the time-stops, to move around and do as he pleases as the rest of the world remains 'frozen.' Kind of an infantile idea gone literary, like the 'everybody but me is a robot' thing which I think Vonnegut took up. Here the protagonist doesn't want to change the world, get rich, or screw with peoples' minds-- he just wants to see women naked. It sounds pretty damn childish when it's stated as bluntly as that,...more
Pierce
Mr. Morrison recommended I check this out after reading that "Killing Time" thing I wrote. And yeah, it's kind of exactly the same idea stretched to the length of a novel. Namely, what would you do if you could actually stop time (answer: take people's clothes off).

Except whereas I thought it would be funnier to just hint at the idea, Baker seemed to think it was funnier to go into pages and pages of graphic detail about the whole process. Maybe that is funnier, I dunno.

So it was interesting fo...more
PMP
Arno Strine is able to stop time, and what he chooses to do with that power is take off women's clothes and get himself off. I'd be lying if I didn't call this one of the best-executed literoti I've come across. And if I didn't agree that the overall premise is cleverly pornographic and a peep at the writer's condition at the same time. And damned if it isn't finally an observant meditation on loneliness. That said, the overall effect of all that outre sex is like the feeling you get after consu...more
Kara
The Fermata is to books what True Romance is to movies...one of my all time favorite love stories.
Angie
I want to start out by saying that I really liked the idea of this book. Really, I did. However, this book fell way short of my expectations. About the story...

The narrator has the unique ability to stop time, to drop into what he calls "The Fold". One aspect of the story I enjoyed was learning of all the machinations he concocted to be able to do this (rigged parts of an electronic toy racetrack, throwing the shirt off his back into the spin cycle). All of this was original, and highly amusing....more
Jason
The Fermata is a book of divine dirtiness. Baker's protagonist Arno Strine is a 30-ish office temp in Boston purportedly writing his autobiography. His autobiography, however, is the tale of a devilish peeping Tom, who uses a gift to stop time to make manifest his voyeuristic fantasies about the female sex. Occasionally innocent (a peek at the items in a woman's purse). Occasionally risque (a ... "full finger tracing" of the body of a woman sitting still in time naked in her bathtub). If it soun...more
Ben Loory
it's kind of like if Douglas R. Hofstadter started writing for hustler magazine. only, beneath the pure and gleeful pornography and meditations on time and consciousness, there's a simple and affecting love story about two lonely people. it's actually a very sweet book.

some of my favorite parts (there are a million):

While Joyce was gone I stared at the flower in the bud vase and felt up the table under the tablecloth to discover what sort of surface it had. It had a rough surface. I didn't think...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Finally someone capable of wielding the English language writes some raunchy, dirty, smart, meta-porn. Well, no, certainly not *that* kind of meta-porn. Simply meta-fiction with some porn written in. It's good.
Arun Divakar
A version of the bullock-powered mill was prominently used in India as much as six-seven decades ago. Tied to a central hub that grinds grain or extracts oil, the bullock traverses a circular course. This path never varies nor does it move one inch away from the center. I took this example as it is very close to The Fermata in its execution. The center of this literary mill is sexuality of the voyeuristic kind and there is hardly anything else in the book !

A thirty year old man who is by natu...more
Drew
A lot of authors get compared to Nabokov, and it seems that the sole criterion for that comparison is a certain fairly high level of playful facility with the English language. But Nicholson Baker is probably the only author I know whose writing is actually sort of like Nabokov's. I'm not going to back up that assertion other than to say that there's a sub-story in The Fermata that contains the word "dildungsroman."

I sort of thought this book was going to be lame and/or repetitive, and certain...more
Carmen Petaccio
"Getting engaged was thus an obscenity. 'If you fingerfuck this ring for me now, darling, I vow that I will fuck you regularly for the rest of my life.' That's basically the arrangement."

"...I wanted to tell Joyce my dream of a flying blue brassiere: that we would be stranded in a rowboat in the middle of a sulfur lake, and the only way we could escape is if she took off her shirt and removed her flying blue brassiere and kneeled in its cups and took strong hold of the straps and pulled up on th...more
Marsha
The protagonist of this story has a fetish. He likes to fondle women beneath their clothes. Nature has given him a gift that allows him to indulge this perversion—the ability to stop time at unpredictable times and for uncertain lengths of time. Thus, he can peel apart a strange women’s clothing, fondle her and then push the clothing back into place. Time will click back on and the woman goes on, unaware that she’s been molested.

The novel gives him no feelings of remorse, guilt or shame. He can’...more
Cathy
I skimmed through the other reviews for this book and was a bit amused at the basic question of "What would feminists think of this?" or to paraphrase another way, "Not sure women would like this book!" As a woman, I had no problem with it.

As a person, I loved this book! Whether I agree or disagree with everything the protagonist(s) does(do) is not an object in whether I like or dislike a book. Did I particularly like how they kill the piggy in Lord of the Flies? No. Did I love the book? Yes.

Bak...more
M
For lack of a better word, the premise of this book is really... rapey. This book was recommended to me as a sexy literary read and by the time I finished the first 20 pages or so (because that's as far as I got before returning the ebook to my library) I felt very uncomfortable. Even though the main character seemingly enjoys undressing women, his narration feels incredibly awkward and dispassionate. The book isn't bad per se; Baker is clearly talented, but The Fermata is utterly unappealing an...more
Brendan
Jul 18, 2007 Brendan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: John Ashcroft & Mitt Romney
A guy figures out he has the power to stop time. He doesn't use it to rob banks or even prevent banks from being robbed. No, he uses it to look up women's skirts. Sometimes he undresses them completely, but when he's done he very considerately puts them back together so they don't suspect a thing. He indulges himself in writing porn, and Nicholson Baker generously indulges his reader in the full transcript of his stories, which include vibrators and riding mowers.

The Fermata is dirrrrty and very...more
Stephanie
go ahead and read porn on a plane, in a cafe, wherever. just don't think calling it literature makes it any more sophisticated. (one star for the delusions of the publisher, author, main character, and the largely repressed american public who think they need permission to read smut.)
Dave
The Fermata is, simply put, a puerile fantasy disguised as a memoir, written by a man who uses his ability to stop time to become the most prolific rapist in the history of the universe.

Spoiler alert, he does eventually get his comeuppance when he finally falls in love with a woman and loses the time-stopping power to her. She punishes him by using it to sexually satisfy him in all new and unexpected ways.

Hey, wait a minute, that's not a comeuppance, that's the erotic fantasy of a damaged, lonel...more
Graham
It says on the book cover accompanying this review it is the funniest book about sex ever written. No it isn't. It has not been written as a humorous book for a start and the only thing worth laughing at is the authors attempts to tie his fantasies together with an alleged 'plot'. Had it been an attempt at humour, it might have merited the one star I am forced to give it. Far from being aroused, I felt more and more disturbed as I was clearly being given an insight into the writers own sexually...more
Arminzerella
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Time Travel: The Fermata 3 32 Dec 20, 2012 05:44PM  
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Nicholson Baker is a contemporary American writer of fiction and non-fiction. As a novelist, his writings focus on minute inspection of his characters' and narrators' stream of consciousness. His unconventional novels deal with topics such as voyeurism and planned assassination, and they generally de-emphasize narrative in favor of intense character work. Baker's enthusiasts appreciate his ability...more
More about Nicholson Baker...
The Mezzanine Vox The Anthologist House of Holes A Box of Matches

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“I don’t think that loneliness is necessarily a bad or unconstructive condition. My own skill at jamming time may actually be dependent on some fluid mixture of emotions, among them curiosity, sexual desire, and love, all suspended in a solvent medium of loneliness. I like the heroes or heroines of books I read to be living alone, and feeling lonely, because reading is itself a state of artificially enhanced loneliness. Loneliness makes you consider other people’s lives, makes you more polite to those you deal with in passing, dampens irony and cynicism. The interior of the Fold is, of course, the place of ultimate loneliness, and I like it there. But there are times when the wish for others’ voices, for friendliness returned, reaches unpleasant levels, and becomes a kind of immobilizing pain. That was how it felt as I finished packing up the box of sex machines.” 8 likes
“Gerard Manley Hopkins somewhere describes how he mesmerized a duck by drawing a line of chalk out in front of it. Think of me as the duck; the chalk, softly wearing itself away against the tiny pebbles embedded in the corporate concrete, is Joyce's forward-luring rough-smooth voice on the cassettes she gives me. Or, to substitute another image, since one is hardly sufficient in Joyce's case, when I let myself really enter her tape, when I let it surround me, it is as if I'm sunk into the pond of what she is saying, as if I'm some kind of patient, cruising amphibian, drifting in black water, entirely submerged except for my eyes, which blink every so often. Each word comes floating up to me like a thick, healthy lily pad and brushes past my head.” 1 likes
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