Paul Bryant's Reviews > The Fermata

The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
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's review
Dec 15, 10

really liked it
bookshelves: verysleazyfun, novels

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


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 his great gifts on this heaping morass of schoolboy peeping-under-girls'-skirts prurience (and taking them right off) and sniggering lipsmacking giggling drooling stickyfingered lasciviousness.


In The Fermata his hero learns how to STOP TIME and then be able to walk around inside the stopped moment, stepping around the now-frozen puddle splashes, gently moving dogs out of the way, and so forth, and with this great galactic mindblowing power what does this guy do? Does he rewrite history? No, he undresses girls and goes into ladies bathrooms and ogles ogles ogles. And other things which you'll have to read the book to discover but I'll bet your mind is already right there. So this guy is - yes - completely frittering away his great powers -

ah, wait - BING!!! Just like Nicholson Baker himself - ergo -

this is a self-referential comedy which brilliantly parodies the author's own inabilities to find something grown-up to do with his obvious talents. It's the perfect metaphor. Some guys live for the perfect wave, and for some of us less good-looking types it's the perfect metaphor. As The Beach Boys sang,

"Catch a metaphor and you're sittin' on top of the world".

Four very squelchy stars wrapped in kleenex and placed carefully at the bottom of the bin and covered up with other less naughty rubbish for you, Master Baker.

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03/05 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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message 1: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Why didn't I think of that? I'm so envious!

I suppose it's some defense that I've never actually read The Fermata. But I know, it's pretty feeble.

Paul Bryant Oh you should - it's right up your street!

message 3: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Well, I liked Vox and Checkpoint. I'll put it on my list!

message 4: by David (new)

David Good god paul! Brain rot is setting in. Have all those years of eating Wimpyburgers finally taken their toll?

Four stars?! Those of us who look to you to uphold standards see this and are worried... next thing we know you'll be writing Twilight fanfiction...

Paul Bryant I take it you're not a Nicholson Baker fan!

message 6: by Scribble (last edited Dec 31, 2010 07:21AM) (new)

Scribble Orca So you're the Douche Hipster...(chuckle, chuckle). I mean, if you have to refute in public?

Is there any particular novel of his on which it's preferable to cut one's teeth? Not having the gumption of you and Manny, of course.

Paul Bryant Hi GN - it has to be The Mezzanine - that's really the only NB book you need. He's one of those weird one-trick-pony guys. But since his trick is a good one, if you like The Mezzanine you'll like the next three or four. After that, allegedly, he lost his mojo.

message 8: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca Thanks, Paul! Added.

notgettingenough This review is SO funny. Especially when you discover, as I just did, that this is one of his books:

message 10: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant I can entirely see why NB would be unreadable for some. There are these extreme writers, like DFW and Thomad Bernhardt and Saramago, etc and some people like em and most don't. Same thing with music. It takes a real freak to like Albert Ayler but I myself love Beefheart.

message 11: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant Hi Brett - glad you liked it!

message 12: by Ian (new)

Ian GalaDali These sound like the Charges of the Festival of Light Brigade.

message 13: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant oh wow, that's a great line!

message 14: by Ian (new)

Ian GalaDali I assumed you had a Festival of Light in the UK as well? The Mary Whitehouse group?

message 15: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant we did, haven't heard of them for a long time. I think the tide of filth they were complaining about drowned every last one.

message 16: by Ned (new)

Ned Rifle Paul wrote: "I can entirely see why NB would be unreadable for some. There are these extreme writers, like DFW and Thomad Bernhardt and Saramago, etc and some people like em and most don't. Same thing with musi..."

This is not really very important, but does that statement mean you don't like Ayler, or that you do?

message 17: by Paul (last edited Jan 15, 2013 02:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant me, no - but I like all sorts of other peculiar stuff


message 18: by Ned (new)

Ned Rifle Heard it!

Personally not much of a fan of Brotzmann, though the Sheila Chandra's a classic.

Ayler is so rarely mentioned that it seems cruel to involve him only for the sake of disapproval.

(Just to continue the exchange: )

message 19: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant he's a touchstone for extreme music, I think. There was no disapproval implied, just that some people do actually like extreme stuff and other people think they are mad.

message 20: by Ned (new)

Ned Rifle Well then, at least you mentioned him.

I also approve of the Fahey you've got there, of course.

message 21: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant I met him in 1999... just before he died.

message 22: by Ned (new)

Ned Rifle He's probably my favourite musician, so I'm (more than) slightly jealous, Death Chants is probably the album I've played most (of anyone, that is).

message 23: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant well, I should at this point probably out myself as the author of this discography here

the most fun entry is this one here

message 24: by Ned (new)

Ned Rifle Thanks, It looks like a good resource (I may even have stumbled across it before at some point).

message 25: by Ned (new)

Ned Rifle I just read through the VOT entry, it was incredibly engrossing. I am disappointed, if not doubtful, that it's the most fun entry.

message 26: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Bryant Well, it's the weirdest record in th Fahey discography by a mile, hence the most elaborate entry.

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