Martin Amis, Heavy Water and Other Stories, Night Train
D.M. Thomas, The White Hotel
Gore Vidal, Death in the Fifth Position, Death Before Bedtime, Death Likes It Hot
Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury
Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman
Gore Vidal, Death in the Fifth Position
Martin Amis, Heavy Water and Other Stories
Martin Amis, Night Train
Richard Brautigan, Dreaming of Babylon
Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury
Note: This month’s entry is on the long side. I’d like to guarantee that it will be worth it, but I can’t in good conscience do so. Sometimes things must just be written, irregardless, know what I mean?
Dreaming of Babylon was an easy read, with short chapters that start halfway down the page. Too easy, really — I was enjoying it, and then it was over. The central mystery is never resolved, or even explored in much depth, not that I really expected it to be. Despite being subtitled “A Private Eye Novel 1942,” this is Brautigan, after all.
Babylon prompted me to pick up Martin Amis’s Night Train, another detective novel filtered through a unique literary sensibility. Having read London Fields many a year ago, I’ve long had it in my mind to read more Amis, more so since he died earlier this year. Night Train was not at the top of my list, but there it was in the bookstore, and then in my hand as I moved toward the front counter (along with D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel, which I had read a reference to a few days before and just got that feeling about, that it was something I was supposed to read).
Night Train was an easy read too — even if Amis, apparently out of a desire to challenge himself, perversely made his first-person narrator not only a woman but an American. He mostly pulls it off (I think), but once in a while there’s a slip-up:
They were neighborly. Jennifer ran errands for her. If she needed something heavy shifted, Trader would shift it.
Oh, Martin… Americans don’t say “shift,” except in the context of work or baseball.
Then again, it’s these little idiosyncrasies that give Night Train its unique flavor. I whipped right through it even though its central mystery turned out to be no mystery at all — we learn fairly early on that this is a suicide, not a murder, and the rest of the book is all about the why, not the who or how. It’s all pretty grim but smart and stylish.
From there there were two ways to go: another high-class detective novel or another Amis. To be safe I picked up both: Death Likes It Hot, which was written by Gore Vidal under the pseudonym Edgar Box, and Heavy Water and Other Stories. I was inclined to start with the former, but it turned out to be the third book in a trilogy. So while I waited for the other two to arrive, I tackled Heavy Water.
Yes, I fell off the wagon a little bit in terms of book acquisition. But fuck it, July is high summer, there’s no better time for reading books or for buying them. It’ll all come out in the wash.
Somewhere in here I also picked up Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury (subtitled “Inside the Trump White House”) from the Coffee Break free box. For some reason I can’t quite explain, this turned out to be exactly the book I needed at that moment. Partly, I must confess, I am as helplessly addicted as the rest of the country to the Trump Show, now wrapping up its boffo seventh season. Hate him or love him we just can’t look away. I don’t feel good about this, but it is what it is. I just hope the next season is set in a federal prison, not the White House.
Fire and Fury was mostly well-written, though obviously put together in a hurry; every ten pages or so there would be a truly egregious editing error, the kind of thing that made a sentence appear to say the exact of opposite of what it wanted to say.1As a professional this makes the hackles stand up on my neck; even when I was doing video game books on three-day schedules, I had standards. But again, what do you want for nothin’?
Warts and all, Fire and Fury accompanied me through a series of travels, including a trip to Denver that was as ultimately enjoyable as it was star-crossed. (At one point a jetway short-circuited, trapping us on the plane and causing us to miss our connection; that was just the first in a series of what I guess I ought to view as comic misadventures.) Then it went into the box at the airport in McKinleyville, where it has hopefully by now found a new master.
Anyway, Heavy Water was great. A little high-concept, maybe: one story was set in a world where poets make millions while screenwriters starve, another in a world where gay people run the world and straights are an oppressed minority. But Amis had the chops to pull these sorts of things off. I particularly liked a vaguely Vonnegutish sci-fi story called “The Janitor from Mars.”
That brings us mostly up to the present. I’m continuing to plow along in The Third Policeman, which is absurd in a way that demands highly focused attention; it may be finished this month. And a few days ago I started Death in the Fifth Position, the first of the books featuring Vidal/Box’s PR flack/detective Peter Sargeant.
This is a bit of a disorienting read if you know the background of its writing: Vidal had written a novel called The City and the Pillar, which, he says in his introduction to Dit5P, “was about a love affair between two young men who had been in the war, a forbidden subject in those days.” This led to his being blackballed from the New York Times’ book reviews, which in the atmosphere of the day made him essentially unpublishable.
So he took to writing mysteries under a pseudonym. The “detective” here (he’s more of a Jessica Fletcher figure who happens to be around when people are murdered), Sargeant is not just resolutely heterosexual but at times overtly homophobic. Which I guess makes sense as protective coloring, but since Gore was writing under a pseudonym, why the pretense?
That’s the only jarring note in what is so far a delightful if bloody romp through the world of ballet, of all things. Soon after Sargeant is retained to do PR for a dance company, a ballerina falls to her death onstage, and we’re off. A little more than halfway through, the body count stands at three, and I still have no idea whodunit. Well, the sun is shining, and my reading chair beckons….