The Fermata, Nicholson Baker

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The Fermata, Nicholson Baker, Random House, 1994, ISBN 0-679-41586-6, $21.00, 303pp.

Okay, let’s get the central conceit out in the open: Arno Strine is this guy with the ability to stop time, which he uses to take women’s clothes off. Yeah, I agree, sophomoric. Yet I dare you to find a heterosexually oriented teenage boy (or ex-teenage boy) who hasn’t had this fantasy. Even so, why are we getting this from Nicholson Baker, who publishes in places like The New Yorker not Penthouse. My guess is that it was an experiment–could Baker raise the concept beyond pornography by the style and manner of its writing? He even succeeds at times, finding a poetry of desire and curiosity in detail that goes beyond mere titillation, that somehow corresponds with basic human nature. However, the sections where he does not overcome the salaciousness of the idea are as–in my view–pornographic as anything posted in, say, alt.sex.stories, which posts have much, much less literary ambition. The ending redeems this dual nature only somewhat (the character does change and mature, something that I had not expected through a full three-fourths of the book), but I hesitate to suggest this to people unaccustomed to “adult” material. On the other hand, er, let me rephrase that…the innuendoes are dangerous when you have material of this type…The Fermata is much better reading than The Starr Report.

[Finished January 1999]

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