"Martin Amis is a stone-solid genius...a dazzling star of wit and insight." --The Wall Street Journal
In this wickedly delightful collection of stories, Martin Amis once again demonstrates why he is a modern master of the form. In "Career Move," screenwriters struggle for their art, while poets are the darlings of Hollywood. In "Straight Fiction," the love that dare not speak its name calls out to the hero when he encounters a forbidden object...
"Martin Amis is a stone-solid genius...a dazzling star of wit and insight." --The Wall Street Journal
In this wickedly delightful collection of stories, Martin Amis once again demonstrates why he is a modern master of the form. In "Career Move," screenwriters struggle for their art, while poets are the darlings of Hollywood. In "Straight Fiction," the love that dare not speak its name calls out to the hero when he encounters a forbidden object of desire--the opposite sex. And in "State of England," Mal, a former "minder to the superstars," discovers how to live in a country where "class and race and gender were supposedly gone."
In Heavy Water and Other Stories, Amis astonishes us with the vast range of his talent, establishing that he is one of the most versatile and gifted writers of his generation.
Martin Amis carried the nickname of “enfante terrible of British literature” far past his youthful debut at 24. His novels focus on excesses -- drugs, sex, money -- prompting Christopher Buckley to note in The New York Times in 1995 that “his terrain is the junkyard of the human psyche” and “Mr. Amis is his generation’s top literary dog.”
The son of legendary English writer Kingley Amis, Martin Amis was born in Oxford in 1949 and attended a number of schools in Great Britain, Spain, and America. By his own admission he was a lackluster student. He spent much of his youth reading comic books, until his stepmother, the novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, took him under her wing, introducing him to literature and encouraging him to study for university entrance. After months of furious cramming, he was accepted into Exeter College in Oxford, graduating with First Class Honors in English.
After graduation, Amis went to work as an editorial assistant at The Times Literary Supplement. In 1973, at the tender of age of 24, he published his award-winning debut novel, The Rachel Papers. Rife with the mordant black humor that would characterize all his fiction, this comic coming-of-age tale was a fitting debut for a career that would be fixated on sex, drugs, and the seamier aspects of modern culture. It also proved to be the first in a long string of bestsellers.
Amis is often grouped with the generation of British-based novelists that emerged during the 1980s and included Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, and Julian Barnes; but it is safe to say he has generated more controversy than his esteemed colleagues. No one feels neutral about Amis's novels. In a 1999 profile in Esquire, Sven Birkerts put it this way: "He is seen either as a cynically chugging bubble machine, way overrated for his hammy turns, or else as a dazzler, the next real thing."
In addition to his provocative fiction, Amis has grabbed more than his fair share of attention for antics off the page. Graced with youthful good looks, he enjoyed a reputation as a notorious womanizer (not unlike his famous father). Much photographed and buzzed about, he was dubbed early on the "enfant terrible" of English literature -- two parts writer, one part rock star. He attracted headlines like a magnet when he left his wife and children for a younger woman; when he fired his longtime literary agent, the wife of his good friend Julian Barnes; and when his new agent (unaffectionately nicknamed "the Jackal) secured for him an advance of 500,000 pounds, 20,000 pounds of which Amis spent on expensive American dental surgery.
Although reviewers are divided over Amis's long-range literary legacy, even his harshest critics begrudgingly acknowledge his stylistic genius, verbal agility, and biting, satirical wit. The novels for which he is best known (and most respected) comprise an informal trilogy: Money (1984), London Fields (1989), and The Information (1995). In addition, he has written short stories, essays, a nonfiction work on 20th-century communism, and an acclaimed memoir, Experience, detailing his relationship with his father, his writing career, and his convoluted family life. He also contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines, and journals.
Good To Know
Amis attended more than 13 schools while growing up in Great Britain, Spain and the United States.
He was named the "rock star of English literature" by the London Daily Telegraph in 1996.
Amis was profoundly shocked and grieved to discover that his long-lost, beloved cousin Lucy Partington, thought to have simply disappeared in 1973, had fallen victim to Fred West, one of England's most notorious serial killers.
In a much-publicized reunion in 1996, Amis met for the first time a young woman named Delilah Seale who was his daughter from a brief 1970s affair.
Amis has been influenced by several American novelists, including Philip Roth and John Updike, but none so profoundly as Saul Bellow, who became a mentor and something of a father figure.
When alistair finished his new screenplay, Offensive from Quasar 13, he submitted it to the LM, and waited. Over the past year, he had had more than a dozen screenplays rejected by the Little Magazine. On the other hand, his most recent submission, a batch of five, had been returned not with the standard rejection slip but with a handwritten note from the screenplay editor, Hugh Sixsmith. The note said:
I was really rather taken with two or three of these, and seriously tempted by Hotwire, which I thought close to being fully achieved.
Do please go on sending me your stuff.
Hugh Sixsmith was himself a screenplay writer of considerable, though uncertain, reputation. His note of encouragement was encouraging. It made Alistair brave.
Boldly he prepared Offensive from Quasar 13 for submission. He justified the pages of the typescript with fondly lingering fingertips. Alistair did not address the envelope to the Screenplay Editor. No. He addressed it to Mr. Hugh Sixsmith. Nor, for once, did he enclose his curriculum vitae, which he now contemplated with some discomfort. It told, in a pitiless staccato, of the screenplays he had published in various laptop broadsheets and comically obscure pamphlets; it even told of screenplays published in his university magazine. The truly disgraceful bit came at the end, where it said "Rights Offered: First British Serial only."
Alistair spent a long time on the covering note to Sixsmith--almost as long as he had spent on Offensive from Quasar 13. The note got shorter and shorter the more he worked on it. At last he was satisfied. There in the dawn he grasped the envelope and ran his tongue across its darkly luminous cuff.
That Friday, on his way to work, and suddenly feeling completely hopeless, Alistair surrendered his parcel to the sub post office in Calchalk Street, off the Euston Road. Deliberately--very deliberately--he had enclosed no stamped, addressed envelope. The accompanying letter, in its entirety, read as follows: "Any use? If not--w.p.b."
"W.p.b." stood, of course, for "wastepaper basket"--a receptacle that loomed forbiddingly large in the life of a practicing screenplay writer. With a hand on his brow, Alistair sidled his way out of there--past the birthday cards, the tensed pensioners, the envelopes, and the balls of string.
When Luke finished the new poem--entitled, simply, "Sonnet"--he photocopied the printout and faxed it to his agent. Ninety minutes later he returned from the gym downstairs and prepared his special fruit juice while the answering machine told him, among many other things, to get back to Mike. Reaching for an extra lime, Luke touched the preselect for Talent International.
"Ah. Luke," said Mike. "It's moving. We've already had a response."
"Yeah, how come? It's four in the morning where he is."
"No, it's eight in the evening where he is. He's in Australia. Developing a poem with Peter Barry."
Luke didn't want to hear about Peter Barry. He bent and tugged off his tank top. Walls and windows maintained a respectful distance--the room was a broad seam of sun haze and river light. Luke sipped his juice: its extreme astringency caused him to lift both elbows and give a single, embittered nod. He said, "What did he think?"
"Joe? He did backflips. It's 'Tell Luke I'm blown away by the new poem. I just know that "Sonnet" is really going to happen.' "
Luke took this coolly. He wasn't at all old but he had been in poetry long enough to take these things coolly. He turned. Suki, who had been shopping, was now letting herself into the apartment, not without difficulty. She was indeed cruelly encumbered. Luke said, "You haven't talked numbers yet. I mean like a ballpark figure."
Mike said, "We understand each other. Joe knows about Monad's interest. And Tim at TCT."
"Good," said Luke. Suki was wandering slenderly toward him, shedding various purchases as she approached--creels and caskets, shining satchels.
"They'll want you to go out there at least twice," said Mike. "Initially to discuss . . . They can't get over it that you don't live there."
Luke could tell that Suki had spent much more than she intended. He could tell by the quality of patience in her sigh as she began to lick the sweat from his shoulderblades. He said, "Come on, Mike. They know I hate all that L.A. crap."
On his way to work that Monday Alistair sat slumped in his bus seat, limp with ambition and neglect. One fantasy was proving especially obdurate: as he entered his office, the telephone on his desk would actually be bouncing on its console--Hugh Sixsmith, from the Little Magazine, his voice urgent but grave, with the news that he was going to rush Alistair's screenplay into the very next issue. (To be frank, Alistair had had the same fantasy the previous Friday, at which time, presumably, Offensive from Quasar 13 was still being booted round the floor of the sub post office.) His girlfriend, Hazel, had come down from Leeds for the weekend. They were so small, he and Hazel, that they could share his single bed quite comfortably--could sprawl and stretch without constraint. On the Saturday evening, they attended a screenplay reading at a bookshop on Camden High Street. Alistair hoped to impress Hazel with his growing ease in this milieu (and managed to exchange wary leers with a few shambling, half-familiar figures--fellow screenplay writers, seekers, knowers). But these days Hazel seemed sufficiently impressed by him anyway, whatever he did. Alistair lay there the next morning (her turn to make tea), wondering about this business of being impressed. Hazel had impressed him mightily, seven years ago, in bed: by not getting out of it when he got into it.