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.