A sharp, witty collection from the prolific writer of fiction, memoir, and acerbic essays.
In his latest work of nonfiction, Amis (The Zone of Interest, 2014, etc.) gathers an enticing miscellany of short pieces—reportage, political and cultural commentary, book reviews, and personal reflections—published during the past 30 years, amended with occasional footnotes and postscripts and, writes the author, given “a great deal of polishing.” In an affectionate piece on The King’s English, his father’s last book, on language and usage, Amis quotes a reviewer who admired the “tense, sly quality” of Kingsley Amis’s prose. Certainly that slyness and linguistic precision has been inherited by Amis fils, whether he is praising the “invigorating intelligence” of Jane Austen or skewering the bumbling Rick Perry, recalling debonair Saul Bellow or denigrating narcissistic Donald Trump. Describing himself as “pallidly left-of-center,” Amis reported on the Republican Party for Newsweek in 2011 and 2012 (calling Romney “an astoundingly proficient technocrat”). In 2016, he weighed in on Trump’s ascension for Harper’s, deeming his campaign manifesto, Crippled America, “emotionally primitive and intellectually barbaric”; and Trump himself, “insecurity incarnate” and, like the majority of Republicans, “a xenophobe and proud of it.” Trump’s “idiolect,” writes the author, would serve as “an adventure playground for any proscriptive linguist.” Among essays on writers, Amis warmly remembers the brilliant, eccentric Iris Murdoch, “the preeminent female English novelist of her generation,” and poet Philip Larkin, “more than memorable. He is instantly unforgettable.” Amis also offers a tender eulogy for Princess Diana, whose death, he writes, felt “so savage.” Diana had a particular talent “for love. She felt that she could inspire it, transmit it, increase its general sum,” and she both humanized and, finally, cracked the veneer of the monarchy. John Travolta, Philip Roth, Christopher Hitchens, and Jeremy Corbyn all come under Amis’ sharp-eyed gaze. Several essays are disarmingly autobiographical; a few pieces compile brief, and sometimes-snarky, replies to readers’ questions.
Literate, perspicacious, and thoroughly entertaining.