Book Review: The Fermata – by Nicholson Baker

I read The Time Traveler’s Wife in the beginning of 2005. After that, you would think I chose The Fermata because it is another story having to do with machinations with time. But it was just a coincidence. Just before then, I had read Nicholson Baker’s “Vox” again, and I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to a friend. Then I just happened to browse in a book store and I came across The Fermata. I wrote the review in 2005 and published it on my web site then.

Yesterday, when I was out browsing with Devin, he told me to go see the movie The Jumper. It’s about a boy that discovers he can perform teleportation. That concept reminded me of The Fermata, and  told Devin about it. The Fermata is a very unique book.

The book is about playing with time, and I do happen to love stories about time, usually science fiction stories. I have read many time travel stories and while this one is not a time travel story per se, it is a time bending story, and I will leave it at that.

Picture a man who figures out that he can stop the universe at will, freezing everyone and everything else, but allowing himself to walk about and take action. Now picture this man with a breast fetish. He can walk up to an strange woman on the sidewalk, open her blouse, unsnap her bra, fondle her breasts, look at them, luxuriate in them, while she is frozen in her step like a mannequin. After he has had his fill, the puts her bra back on, closes her blouse, walks back to where he started and turns the universe back on. She never knew what happened, because in her life all the transgressions against her happened within a single instance.

I know what you are thinking, and there are many perverse scenarios that can come out of this, and you might not want to read this book for that reason. Also, when you first realize this stopping of time, it seems so contrived, you have a hard time believing that you will be able to read an entire book based on this capability. But trust me, one you get started, and you get used to the concept, you take it for granted, and the rest of the story is just a story, nothing else.

I need to warn you here. This is by an order of magnitude the most sexually explicit book published by a major publisher (Random House) that I have ever read. But I would classify it as serious literature, not trash, and therefore I have a hard time putting it into a category. The sexuality is well done and not offending in any way. You just get used to it. I remember reading other sexually explicit books many years ago all the way back when I was a teenager. “Fanny Hill” comes to mind as such a book. This is entirely different.

There are two sections in the book which contain most of the seriously sexually explicit material, and those are sections where the protagonist, who is also a writer of sexual material, writes a story which then serves as the frame for the main story. I felt that those two sections were contrived, and that the author simply put them in to have an excuse to write explicit material, including some urination and even defecation, done surprisingly tastefully, if you can use the word tasteful in the same sentence as defecation. In my opinion, the book would have worked fine without the two stories of Marian. After you read it, you will know what I mean.

Nicholson Baker has added a lot of vocabulary to his repertoire since Vox. Perhaps he didn’t want to use all the fancy words then, and he does now, but I did find myself wondering why he tried to show off words.

He is an excellent writer, though, and I thought it was a delightful read and an intriguing story based on an outrageous concept.

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