Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Books: Yellow Dog, by Martin Amis

My first Amis book, Yellow Dog was a disappointment. I read it concurrently with The Corrections (too heavy to carry around the city), and though Yellow Dog is half the length, it took the same amount of time to read.

Despite its hyper-intellectual, gritty, smutty plot—veritably propelled by the two-pronged fork of violence and lust—the book is totally uncompelling. We follow two protagonists, both writers, and thus assumedly both projections of Amis. One has an ideal life (a gorgeous wife, two lovely toddlers, a best-selling novel, and a successful career in both music and film) that quickly devolves after he is attacked and suffers severe brain damage (he becomes a paedophiliac alcoholic who tries to rape his wife repeatedly); the other has a life in shambles (ugly, fat, erectilely dysfunctional, he drives a filthy van to his stinking pad, where he lives alone; he earns his living by writing smut for a daily wank magazine), which is briefly touched by the promise of love from a woman called k8 ("Kate"—she has bad texting habits), until, of course, he finally meets her in person, and finds out she used to be a man.

There are two other subplots, one in which a fictitious King of England worries about his teenaged daughter, who has been filmed bathing in the nude by an undisclosed party, which threatens to release the tape to the public, but does not request ransom or express any other reason for its actions. The other follows an airplane about to crash; one of the passengers is a woman whose dead husband, in his coffin, is in the cargo hold. This subplot, unlike the other threads, is set off in distinct, single-page snippets at the end of each chapter, and written with a different, more objective voice.

Somewhere at the end all of the separate strands come together, but I couldn't be bothered to pay enough attention to notice how. This is because, in the midst of all of this pedestrian dreck, Amis' writing is actually rather difficult, and not only because of his Anglicisms. If the book were four times as long, it might even be a Pynchon. Like novels by that author, Yellow Dog has a few brilliant moments (most "quotations" from articles by the wank-writer), but they are not worth the slog it takes to find them.

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