Fermata Means Hold

For our September meeting, my book club chose to read Nicholson Baker's book The Fermata. In this novel, the narrator/main character/"autobiographer" has the ability to stop time. Like the main characters in the 2002 Disney hit Clockstoppers, The Fermata's protagonist remains conscious and free to move about while everything else in the universe has halted.

Now, what Arno (that's his name) chooses to do with his superpowers is, pretty much exclusively, take off women's clothes, touch inanimate women, look at women, and masturbate. Before he restarts time, he redresses (and cleans up if needs be) everyone, and no one is any the wiser.

It's by far the dirtiest book I've ever read. But it isn't just "rot" as Arno calls eROTic stories. It's clever and the magical realism is convincing. It’s funny and lighthearted most of the time. Arno is an endearing character and I didn’t hate him in spite of my better judgment. There is a blurb on the back of the book from the Seattle Times that says, "The Fermata may well be the most sexually explicit book ever published by a mainstream publisher, but its warmth and generous spirit are undeniable."

The book ends well. I was afraid that wouldn't be possible and that, in the end, Arno wouldn't have grown or changed or learned anything. He is never punished for his abhorrent behavior, but there is a little progress, a little growth, and a little change, and so I'm glad.

My book club is attended each month by 6 to 10 women ranging in age from about 24 to probably 75. We meet at someone's home and discuss a book we’ve chosen. I've been in this group for over two years. I found it on craigslist. I knew none of the women the first time I went. Now I know them all quite well. After reading The Fermata, we talked (beyond whether or not we liked the book and why) about morality without consequences: Are there things that are wrong in a vacuum or was Arno hurting himself even if he wasn’t hurting the women he undressed without their knowledge?

Then, of course, we talked about what we would do with this power if we had it. Napping in the afternoon, snooping in people’s drawers and bank books, stuffing ballot boxes (it was Primary day when we met), writing books, and reading books were some of the innocuous ideas that we came up with. Some of the less tame ideas were practical jokes, revenge, easy petty theft and complicated grand larceny. Walking into the White House and scaring the crap out of everyone by stabbing the President's tie into the table a la X-Men 2 in front of all his security people and the Joint Chiefs of Staff was also mentioned.

If you could stop time at will (for any length of time—a split second or years), what would you do?

Tell me your ideas. (You should think beyond sexual stuff; Baker/Arno thought of everything, and I don't need to read it again.) Remember that you would be alone. No one else can be "awake" with you. And you will continue to age while others’ aging is on pause. In case that matters to you.


Anonymous crude futures said...

I'll learn to fly a plane. Then I'll wait until the 2008 Summer Olympics. Specifically: I'll wait until the final round of the women's gymnastics vaulting competition. One second after the first vaulter of the last round starts running towards the pommel horse, I'll pause time and find Nicholson Baker. Then I'll fly myself and Baker to the Olympic Stadium where the gymnastics competition is happening. I'll locate the about-to-be-vaulted pommel horse and I'll slump NB's body over that pommel horse so that his gut is facing the ceiling and his upside-down face is aimed approximately at the body of the approaching gymnast. I'll cover the ground around Baker, excluding the gymnast's runway, with several layers of extra foam padding. Then I'll restart time.

12:59 AM  
Blogger sooprgrll said...

hmm...i would play with all the frozen animals that i usually can't get to-squirrels, cows, police horses, birds. i would also get really close to people, touch them, smell them, play with their hair. i would walk in front of and on top of cars.

5:52 PM  
Anonymous jjjjohnaaaa said...

'the fermata' + all-women book club = pretty intense

8:32 AM  
Anonymous mcmullen said...

I wonder how frequently one could stop time... like, to stop and restart time rapidly, so quickly that to the human eye, motion would seem fluid, like in high frame-rate animation. The result would be to move more quickly than everyone else, but in an unobservable way. That would be sweet.

To be able to freeze time alone, without my wife, would be a depressing thing... I'd be disinclined to freeze time for a long time. I'd freeze time before embarking on long car rides, and slalom down the interstate at dangerous speeds. Then, I could drive to New York and hang with my peeps on a school night.

7:30 AM  

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