THE FERMATA by Nicholson Baker


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 The talented Baker returns with sex for sophisticates, making Vox (1992) seem like a warmup exercise. A 35-year-old office temp and grad-school dropout, Arno Stine has the ability to stop the flow of time--a talent he discovered when he had a case for his fourth-grade teacher ``and wanted to see her with fewer clothes on.'' Which he did, by switching on a toy transformer and, when everything around him was struck into a time- frozen motionlessness, taking off his own clothes and a pretty good number of Miss Dobzhansky's. Ever since, he's been doing what he calls the ``Drop,'' putting the entire universe on pause and dropping into the ``fold'' or the ``fermata,'' pretty much at will, by flicking a switch, pushing his glasses up, or snapping his fingers. And what does he do when everything except himself goes on hold (and even the raindrops stop falling)? Well, mainly he masturbates--and masturbates and masturbates--often with, or near, or onto, women whom, under cover of the time-freeze, he's disrobed, or followed home, or in one ingenious way or another aroused with an aim to observing them (and joining them, separate and unseen) in orgasm. Arno considers himself harmless, tenderhearted, sensitive, even considerate (he's fond of ``giving'' sex toys to women, who'll never know where they came from), but to the reader he's--well, a one-note symphony, indisputably a gifted stylist (he's writing--as you read it--his autobiography), but psychologically pretty much skin (and more skin and more skin) deep. Arno Stine is, by and large, more interesting to watch than listen to. The metaphor of time-stop as art-power, and art-power as sex- power, has its allure. But drama is drama and porn porn, this among the most literary-respectable of the latter that money can buy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-41586-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1993


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