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The Fermata

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  4,241 ratings  ·  419 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
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 5th 2004 by Vintage (first published February 1st 1994)
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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 ·  4,241 ratings  ·  419 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: novels
In the 1990s I read The Mezzanine and thought it was brilliant, followed by U and I which was also great. The third Nicholson Baker book I read was this one, and I thought it was outrageous brilliant sexual comedy - he has these great Jamesian-strength-sentence maximum-vocabulary gifts and he squanders them on a heaping tittering morass of schoolboy prurience. That was funny. As you know his hero finds he has the ability to stop time and uses it not to make the world a better place but to undres ...more
What would you do if you could pause time on a whim, freezing everyone and everything, while you wander around, without anyone seeing or hearing anything? What a fab premise for a story.

Image: Frozen time (Source.)

Cher famously sang that If I Could Turn Back Time, she’d strive to change and so win back her lover.

In Groundhog Day, another rewinding scenario, weatherman Phil (who wakes to Cher (and Sonny) singing “I Got You Babe” each morning), tries various silly, selfish, funny, and dangerous t
MJ Nicholls
Nov 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, merkins
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
Dec 10, 2010 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.



[We encounter DH and SC walking near the Jackson Street Blue Line subway stop. Their conversation i
Aug 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science-fiction
Pretty good first attempt at writing from 14 year old Nicholson Baker. Once he grows up a bit, gets a lot more mature, and learns more about story structure and plot, he might actually be a pretty decent writer.

Wait, this was written by a grown ass man? Oh god....

Ok, lets dig into this mess shall we?

First of all, there is no real plot in here. As long as you understand the main concept (a guy has the ability to stop time and he uses it exclusively to rape women), you can turn to any page in the
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is some top-shelf literary erotica. This is some five-star filth. The Fermata treads a line between ironic, self-aware social commentary and out-and-out smut. Baker's use of language is simply stellar: he constantly invents wonderful phrases and neologisms that are as absurd as they are brilliant. The novel is shamelessly lewd, and sex-obsessed. But it is also honest, intelligent and sensitive, not to mention hilarious - I laughed out loud on several occasions. I'm almost ashamed to publicl ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Esmeralda Greene
Aug 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 05, 2014 marked it as aborted-efforts  ·  review of another edition
So this book is a highly disturbing, rapey version of the much-beloved eighties kids' sitcom Out of This World. Its premise is that instead of half-alien, hand-chair-owning teenage girl Evie, an adult man working as a Boston temp has the power to stop time at will and keep moving and doing whatever he wants while everyone else stands frozen in place. Perhaps not surprisingly, but problematically for this reader, our narrator uses this power to sexually assault scores of women without them ever b ...more
Jul 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
Target Market: 15-17 yr old heterosexual male readers

If you're intrigued by the unfiltered, uncensored thoughts of a 16-year-old boy in novel form, you may wanna check this one out.

I read of some who've opined that this novel was made by cobbling together rejects from the inventive Penthouse Forum/Letters magazine? If you've never heard of it, this periodical was an offshoot for the more popular Penthouse magazine, each issue containing dozens of "letters" (written anonymously by "real peopl
Aug 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Sarah Smith
Apr 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Howard Vu
Jan 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. ...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. ...more
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
Feb 22, 2008 rated it did not like it
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 f
Jun 17, 2014 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jason Pettus
Jun 22, 2007 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Nov 07, 2020 added it
Shelves: 21st-century
I'll probably finish this eventually, since I think I'm about 2/3 of the way into it. It's okay. The premise is intriguing--guy has power to freeze time, uses it to get pervy, a lot, and it pretty much defines what's important in his life. I think it has enough worthwhile material to make a decent short story, or maybe a slimmer novella. Maybe not much more. The humor often didn't work for me, though I liked the initial absurdity of the protagonist's first attempt at writing erotica. The obsessi ...more
Dec 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Althea Ann
I got this book because I read Baker's non-fiction book, "Double Fold" in library school, and thought it was very interesting and well-written. 'The Fermata' is quite different! Basically, it's porn. But not porn that I found appealing. It's written in the form of a memoir of a seemingly ordinary man who works as a temp transcriptionist - who has the ability to stop time. Rather than using this power to do any of the obvious possibilities (heists, assassinations, blackmail(?)), he uses his time ...more
Apr 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Jan 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Bon Tom
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm procrastinating this review for days now, because I don't know what to say.
The number of stars, I was pretty sure about that after only a few pages.
But words... what are the words?

Because, this book had effect on me on wanting to be on the same literal level with it, I guess somewhere inside I want to be author of something this good, creator of... well, creator is kinda heavy word, sounds like creator of creation and you can never be that, but you can help crystalize some aspect of reality
Simon Robs
This book just may be a bit risque in the #Metoo -Cosbyesque, perv'em while they're out kinda way but no different than say "Lolita" is though far less literate, still; it's a jaunty yeah lubricious look at stopped time and modus operandi, an ethical misfit at the perv helm doings that disturb if you let them, but otherwise a comical kid in the candy store. ...more
Chelsea Martinez
May 01, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Apr 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Ben Loory
Feb 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Nov 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: read09
I'm beginning to sense that Baker is one of the more obsessive writers around. When he writes a book putting the obsessiveness to use about the destruction of print resources, it is interesting and somewhat tolerable. When it is about poetry, it is charming, and as a reader it pushed me towards a poetry reading binge that has yet to wane. I didn't care for it so much in this book, and I honestly don't want to go into much detail about why. I think in the world of Baker, this is one I would skip ...more
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Nicholson Baker is a contemporary American writer of fiction and non-fiction. He was born in Manhattan in 1957 and grew up in Rochester, New York. He has published sixteen books--including The Mezzanine (1988), U and I (1991), Human Smoke (2008), The Anthologist (2009), and Substitute (2016)--and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's, the New York Review of Books, Best Am ...more

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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.” 13 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.” 2 likes
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