cover image The Fermata

The Fermata

Nicholson Baker. Random House Inc, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41586-2

Baker follows his surprise bestseller, Vox , with a novel once again filled with elaborate sexual fantasies. The ``fermata'' of the title refers to the fold in time that narrator Arno Strine can induce; this allows him to stop the flow of events around him and proceed in his own fashion to undress unsuspecting women. The 35-year-old Strine, appropriately enough, works as a ``temp'' in Boston, moving in and out of various office situations, completing his business and then disappearing. Despite his questionable ethics while ``in the fold''--fondling women's breasts, going through their pocketbooks, writing erotic marginalia in the books they are browsing, stopping their cars and replacing their music cassettes with ones containing his own pornographic compositions--Strine is blithely confident that, since he means no ill will, he is innocent of any wrongdoing. Despite Baker's vaunted object fetishism, which in all his books registers as an unparalleled gift for description, he once again fails to find a novelistic context that would lend his art any lasting resonance. The sexual escapades here--a lonely woman's fascination with sexual toys strapped to a riding lawnmower; a laboratory investigation of the role masturbation might play in Strine's carpal tunnel problem--border on the ludicrous, however titillating. Still, many Vox readers will flock to this erudite smut even as Baker stalls in his campaign to eventually succeed Updike as America's most polished stylist. (Feb.)