Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Lionel Asbo," Martin Amis: "a kind of anti-dad, the counterfather."

 Martin Amis, at home in Brooklyn

“But what happens — it’s already started happening to me — is that you turn 60 and there’s this: ‘This is going to turn out well. This can’t turn out well,’ ” he said. “But life grows in value because of your leave-taking with regard to it. Not very significant things suddenly look very poignant and charming. This particular period of my life is full of daily novelty. That turns out to be worth a great deal.”

As if to announce his own novel style of leave-taking, Amis, 63, has moved from London to Brooklyn with his homesick second wife, leaving Britain behind, but with a new book tramping London one last time. The ex-pat now looks out his windows at Manhattan: the love affair is, apparently, in bloom. In a current NY Times interview with Peter Stevenson Amis is quoted as saying “One of the things I like about Brooklyn is you see Manhattan from a distance ... and it’s magnificent: what a work of man that is." Of course, there is always the Amis dash of bitters in the gin: he never considered living in Manhattan.

“It’s too noisy ... The city that never sleeps? Well, the city whose inhabitants never sleep, that’s what it is. Terrible, self-righteous municipal clangings and bangings at 3 o’clock in the morning." So.

So it is Brooklyn for Amis and his family, a novelist's love affair with New York from a distance. It's a bit of careful calculation from a novelist whose urban fables of London have always observed the underside of city life. 

Amis, who was the rake and rambling man of British fiction after living down the specter of being the son of Kingsley, then made a productive career in criticism and critically-received novels, enters his third act this August with a new book, Lionel Asbo: State of England. It's one more Amis story (his twelfth novel) observed with the author's gimlet eye: Lionel Asbo is another one of the author's bad boys, a character like others of his fiction that made Money, London Fields, Time's Arrow, and The Information a variety of modern Dickens class-morality plays. His novels hinge on sly scams of one kind or another -- emotional, financial, marital. 

This story offers a twist in the fabric of the Amis universe: its central character, Desmond Pepperdine, is a young man of some intelligence, and sincere enough to write an advice columnist about an awkward affair. Unfortunately, the affair is with his grandmother, and there is the plot, simple as that: fifteen-year-old Desmond lives with his Uncle Lionel, a psychotically violent local hoodlum, "a kind of anti-dad, the counterfather." If Lionel finds out that Des has slept with his mother, he will kill him.

Amis has accepted the fact that many British readers find this a parting shot at London's social disequilibrium:
he already knows that the early word on his new novel is that it's depressingly bad. Yet it seems to be turf he knows well. He told the NY Times interviewer, “I’ve sort of hung out with a few thugs all my life,” he said. “I love thugs. I’m keen on them.”

Since Amis's relocation to America during an election season, he might now focus on a different sort of thuggish crowd with its own set of mysteries and rituals. As he mused to the Times interviewer, “Is Mitt Romney electable? ... On the face of it, he looks presidential and he’s not stupid. But he lets himself down hideously whenever he has a victory."

"He looks as if he’s had five grams of coke — he’s shaking with a power rush. And that was always the most impressive thing about Obama: how he didn’t let that happen to himself. As if he didn’t feel it.” 

"What a great time to be coming to America," the author tells Stevenson. Well, it's a long four months until the election: surely CNN, Fox, and MsNBC must be considering a new commentator with a British accent for endless, hypothesizing political opinion. Amis's 1986 collection of essays about America, at the height of Reagan's morning-in-America image makeover, was titled The Moronic Inferno. No telling what fodder the next four months will provide the writer with the acid wit.

(Photo of Martin Amis by Mike McGregor from Guardian UK)

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