Drew's Reviews > The Fermata

The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
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's review
Dec 04, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: postmodern-toasties, boulder-public-library
Read from November 30 to December 04, 2011

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 parts of it definitely were (I'm looking at you, 20-page interpolations of Strine-penned amateur erotica). But what ended up making it really interesting was Arno Strine's ultimate dissatisfaction with his power. Yes, he can stop time and do all sorts of dirty things to women. But if he were really all about sexual gratification, wouldn't he just go around raping them? Which he never actually does (although that actually depends on your definition of rape), and which another minor character says he would, hypothetically. Despite his powers, Arno ends up reminiscing quite a bit about his old ex-girlfriend, with whom he had a comparatively normal relationship, and also devising ridiculous schemes to make some sort of personal connection with someone. For instance, he drives alongside a woman on the highway, stops time, makes a tape of his own (not too great) erotica, sticks it in her tape player, and goes back to his own car, only to see her toss the tape out the window later on. Granted, it's pretty hard to make moves on a girl you see on the highway, but that's what he does. I don't remember him even undressing her. And he's constantly lamenting the fact that when you stop time, people lose dimensions; their faces are less lively, etc. etc. and if he were to have sex with anyone, it'd be ruined by the lack of reaction, of interaction. And that rings true. Arno would for the most part rather have love than sex, which is why he never does the horrible things that other people might. And in that way, as he argues at one point, maybe he does deserve it.
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