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The Fermata

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  4,069 ratings  ·  392 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
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 5th 2004 by Vintage (first published February 1st 1994)
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Average rating 3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,069 ratings  ·  392 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels, verysleazyfun
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
Dec 10, 2010 marked it as to-not-read-ever
Recommends it for: tucker max
Recommended to unknown 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
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
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 ...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.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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.
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
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 ...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.
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
Feb 27, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
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
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 ...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
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 ...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
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 ...more
David B
Sep 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
Well, I gave it til page 100, but I just can't take anymore. No more dull, fetishistic erotica and endless boring digressions. My heart sank every time I turned a page and saw another dense block of unparagraphed prose. I usually feel compelled to finish every book I start, but this time it feels good to let go.
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.
Yash Sinojia
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm really glad that I've come across a mostly plotless erotica that is so well written and revolves around the writer's thoughts and adventures in a lifetime. I like the way that it is mostly about loneliness and those experiences of the aroused state-of-mind. And it also explores the differing sexual desires of male and female.
Nov 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 15, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...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.

Aug 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Fermata is to books what True Romance is to of my all time favorite love stories.
Jan 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read this book a couple times, and it is one of my favorites. I am not sure what that says about me as a person, but it is what it is.
Carmen Petaccio
Sep 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
"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
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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
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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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