Heavy Water: And Other Stories

Heavy Water: And Other Stories

by Martin Amis

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"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

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"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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Amis applies his comic timing, his perfect pitch and his curatorial eye to some of the burning issues of our time." —The New York Times Book Review

"Martin Amis is a force unto himself. . . . There is, quite simply, no one else like him." —The Washington Post

Laura Miller
In "The Janitor on Mars," the seventh story in Heavy Water, Martin Amis' new collection, a robot left behind by an advanced yet now extinct Martian civilization addresses the human race. Launching into a hilarious riff on the techno-fetishistic jargon of "hard" science fiction, it explains that even Mars' titans shriveled with despair upon discovering that they were mere pawns in a chain of ever more incomprehensibly superior entities, beginning with the Infinity Dogs, who were "merely the errand boys of the type-l agency called the Resonance. Which in turn owes tribute to a type-j imperium called the Third Observer." What motivates such godlike beings? Certainly not spiritual hunger or creative ambition. "Nobody's interested in art," this Nietzschean C3PO observes. "They're interested in what everybody else is interested in: the superimposition of will."

There, blown up to comically cosmic proportions, is the British writer's take on life: one long, merciless, inescapable pecking order. If you can tolerate the bitter aftertaste that this view leaves (Amis must be big with the Selfish Gene crowd), his fiction offers many pleasures. The prose is jam-packed with displays of virtuosity. In "The Coincidence of the Arts," Amis concocts one of his trademark lists to describe a Manhattan populated entirely by artists, where "even the babies starred in ads and had agents...[and] the AC installers were all installationists. The construction workers were all constructivists." He can nail types with a cool savagery that might awe even the Third Observer: "More scavenger than predator, in matters of the heart, Rodney was the first on the scene after the big cats had eaten their fill. He liked his women freshly jilted."

Amis is a satirist; he deals in surfaces and dispenses gags. The short story ought to be his ideal form, since, like a Top 40 single, it ends (presumably) before you're bothered by how slight it is. For some reason, though, Amis has often channeled his most unconvincing attempts at gravitas into his stories (as in Einstein's Monsters, a theme collection about nuclear war). Fortunately, the stories in Heavy Water seldom attempt to plumb such depths, and the book is tremendous fun to read. "Career Move" portrays a world in which the lot of poets and of screenwriters is reversed. A poet lounges around pools in L.A. saying things like "How did 'Eclogue by a Five-Barred Gate' do?" while a screenwriter agonizes over cover letters to tiny magazines that pay in the low two figures. It's a one-joke shtick, but Amis makes it work, mostly because he doesn't push it too far. (Was there ever a more endless slim volume than the stunt novel Time's Arrow?) Likewise "Let Me Count the Times," about a man whose statistical analysis of his sex life goes haywire when he embarks on an epic masturbatory binge.

"The Coincidence of the Arts" -- which involves a dim Anglotrash painter who sponges off rich New Yorkers -- shows the laserlike edge of Amis' social satire, and "State of England" proves once again that lower-class louts elicit the best of his limited gift for characterization. Only "Denton's Death" (the earliest piece), with its connect-the-dots existential misery, and "What Happened to Me on My Holiday" (the most recent), a tiresome dialect story, are flat-out duds. That bitter aftertaste still lingers, but the helpings are easier to digest when they're small. -- Salon

Alan DeNiro
Martin Amis writes to the brink, filling his stories with zaniness, impossibilities and strange conundrums. Unfortunately, sometimes he merely plays semantic games. It's only when he weds his wordcraft to a deep sense of characterization that his risks are redeemed. Thankfully, Amis does this often enough to make his new book of stories worthwhile.
Gadfly Magazine
Ben Greenman
Imagine a world where critics say good things about bad books and bad things about good ones: In that world, this is the best short-story collection of the year. -- Time Out New York
Will Lee
...[T]he Martin Amis Snack Pack...not enough of any single taste to provide long-lasting satisfaction.
People Magazine
These stories...demonstrate humor, patience and ...generosity of spirit...
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Amis is an ingenious short story writer, and this collection of tales, three of which have not been seen here before, offers a good sampling of his range. This includes, of course, tone-perfect mimicry, which is evident in "State of England," about a disco bouncer with a son at a posh English boys' school, and "What Happened to Me on My Holiday," told in the misspelled, petulant voice of a hurt child. Then there is sharp, edgy comedy based on the notion of role reversal. In "Career Move," much admired when it appeared in The New Yorker six years ago, poets swagger around Hollywood in an atmosphere of big movie deals and heroin-fueled script conferences, while screenplay authors attend eager readings of each other's work and vie desperately for publication in ephemeral little magazines that never pay. "Straight Fiction" supposes that the world is predominantly gay but that outposts of heterosexuality remain in areas like New York's Christopher Street and San Francisco's Castro, exerting a malificent influence on the predominant, comfortable culture. "The Coincidence of the Arts" has an aristocratic and evasive English artist in New York trying to avoid reading an ambitious novel thrust upon him by his black doorman. "The Janitor on Mars" is a satirical science fiction yarn. Amis's work is wonderfully clever and often extremely funny, but there is no escaping a certain steely-eyed coldness at the heart of it.
Library Journal
Stories dating from the early 1970s to summer 1997.
Michiko Kakutani
..Mr. Amis...has established himself as one of his generation's most ambitious and technically daring writers....Heavy Water and Other Stories...intermittently displays those gifts... -- The New York Times

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage International Series
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.93(h) x 0.47(d)

Read an Excerpt

From "Career Move"

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.

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