Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Information Comes at Night

The Information by Martin Amis
Anthony Vacca's rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Price: 15.99
Publisher: Vintage (reprint)
Available: Now

Failed novelist Richard Tull is fairly certain that the cosmos are at odds with him; and while Martin Amis assures us--as in, Martin Amis takes the time to address us directly himself--that Richard's place in regards to the universal order of things is tantamount to jack-shit, he doesn't bother to mention this simple fact to his protagonist; but I guess Amiss knows that telling Richard Tull any of this wouldn't make much of a difference. You see, Richard Tull is kind of going insane.

And because no one likes to blame their own damn self for any of their problems, Richard Tull is dead-certain that the one person who deserves to suffer for all of his woes is none other than his best friend Gwyn Barry. Richard was the one who showed promise years ago with publishing of his first novel, a challenging yet cult-literary success (this due largely in part to the fact that none of the reviewers understood or even finished the book); and it was Gwyn who was supposed to be the talentless chump who spent his career doing nothing more prestigious than student study guides for famous works of literature. Richard was the one who married the pretty Gina as his own exceptional trophy wife, while Gwyn was stuck with plain and dumpy Gilda. Richard was supposed to be the one in this friendship who is kind and generous to his obviously inferior friend.

But then no one bought, let alone read, Richard's second novel (which has the fantastic title Dreams Don't Mean Anything) and after that no publishing house was sure-as-hell going to waste their time (or, more importantly, their money) publishing a third or fourth or even fifth novel from such an unmarketable author. Pretty soon Richard ends up with nothing more prestigious in his life than a career as an editor for a very small vanity press and as a reviewer for an equally small joke-of-a literary journal. And even here, the kind of books he reviews are almost all-primarily doorstop-sized biographies on various obscure hack-writers and hack-poets from the 17th and 18th centuries (and I can see how this would certainly contribute to a destabilization in mental health). And while his wife is still undeniably pretty-and admirably faithful and supportive of her husband through all his failures (as a writer and especially as a husband)-Richard now has the additional bummer of two twin boys to cramp his style, and one of them is starting to show signs of being a "special needs" child.

And maybe this would all be a tolerable lot in life for Richard if it wasn't for the fact the Gwyn Barry is now an international mega-star of a novelist with the publication of only his second novel. But what's worse than the fact that Richard thinks Gwyn's book is awful and boringly simple is that Gwyn didn't marry Gilda-no, he ended marrying the extremely beautiful and extremely wealthy Lady Demeter de Rougemount. When Richard learns about this last blow, right on the heels of watching Gwyn's book rise on the sale charts, he literally breaks down into tears and laments, "How could you do this, Gwyn? I thought we were in this together." And he hasn't stopped lamenting or crying since.

Actually, I take that back. Richard has stopped lamenting-now, he just straight-up hates his best friend Gwyn Barry. And you know what, Richard (in his own words here) is going to do whatever it takes to "fuck Gwyn Barry's world up."

And that, my friends, is what we can call the "basic plot" of Martin Amis's triumphant snarl of a novel, The Information. And it's a hell of a storyline, at that; but it is also only one of the many treasures within this novel.

For one, there is the absolute grace Amis gives to all his characters and their dialogue, even with a protagonist as petty and lousy as Richard Tull.

The novel kicks off with the back-to-back birthdays of Richard and Gwyn (how can the cosmos not be at work here?), and during one particularly dull birthday luncheon for Gwyn, attended by numerous respected journalists, writers and other various kinds-of socialites, an argument breaks out between the guests about what exactly is the difference between the nature of female writing and male writing. Gwyn listens idly by until his opinion on the matter is asked for directly; and his response is (after first pausing for a moment of reflection and after taking the time to steeple both his hands before his mouth in a thoughtful manner): "'I never think in terms of male writers or in terms of female writers. I find I always think in terms of people.'"

And, of course, everyone at the table's response to this gag-inducing and super-precious answer is to sigh admiringly and nod approvingly, like the sycophantic and callow schmucks they all arewell, all except for Richard, that is. Richard, understandably disgusted, rebuts:

"'It must make you feel nice and young to say that being a man means nothing and being a woman means nothing and what matters is being a...person. How about being a spider, Gwyn. Let's imagine you're a spider. You're a spider, and you've just had your first serious date. You're limping away from that now, and you're looking over your shoulder, and there's your girlfriend, eating one of your legs like a chicken drumstick. What would you say? I know. You'd say: I find I never think in terms of male spiders or in terms of female spiders. I find I always think in terms of...spiders'"

And in this moment, Richard Tull had me completely on his side. No matter how disgustingly, pathetically or despicably Richard may behave throughout the rest of the book (and he certainly does all three in spades) he at least isn't the same kind-of self-absorbed ass that Gwyn is. If you don't believe me about Gwyn, then try this factoid on for size: ever since Gwyn has become famous, he has started in with this habit of staring at everything with a wide-eyed, child-like wonder, as if he has never seen the item before. So during an interview the flow of questions are in danger of being interrupted while Gwyn takes a moment to ogle at a fork, or a slice of grapefruit. Gwyn also likes to compare his writing to carpentry in interviews. Of course, the interviewer inevitably responds with, "do you do any carpentry yourself?' And Gwyn's answer is to shrug, and say, "I dabble." Richard knows this is complete bullshit and calls his friend out on it. Gwyn then shows Richard his carpentry table in the basement of his mansion (another sore-spot for Richard), and also the chair he bought from a store and has sawed away at a little here and there, just so in case an interviewer would like to see his carpentry, Gwyn will have a workshop and some work to display.

Yeah, I know, what an ass, right? (It's funny, because Martin Amis says nearly the exact same thing later on in the book about Richard Tull's character; and, well, Richard is also kind of an ass, too)

So now that you have caught glimpses of why Richard wants to "fuck Gwyn Barry up", I should probably tell you a little bit about just exactly how Richard plans on doing that. Well, the thing of if it is, Richard kind of makes some of the most seemingly pathetic and inane attempts imaginable. Luckily for Richard there's Steve "Scozzy" Cousins: a small-time thug who "fuck's people up for a living", and who also just happens to be Richard's biggest (and only) fan. Pretty soon Scozzy is in Richard's employ, and this criminal and his minions begin pursuing avenues for the best possible ways to destroy Gwyn Barry.

To say too much more about this novel (Um, is that supposed to be a joke, Anthony? You are aware of, like, how long you've been going on for now, right) would give away all the wild thrills packed within its tightly structured pages; but let me take a moment to speak about the writing itself.

Oh, man, the fucking writing in this thing!

Here are a couple of passages that are straight zaps to the neural receptors:

"Some junk novels were all about airports. Some junk novels were even called things like Airport. Why, then you might ask, was there no airport called Junk Novel? Junk novels have been around for at least as long as non-junk novels, and airports havent been around for very long at all. But they both really took off at the same time. Readers of junk novels and people in airports wanted the same thing: escape, and quick transfer from one junk novel to another junk novel and from one airport to another airport."

"These days he smoked and drank largely to solace himself for what drinking and smoking had done to him--but smoking and drinking had done a lot to him, so he drank and smoked a lot."

"...she didn't know Proust. But she knew tears. Gina had tears cold."

"Poets got women. They didn't get anything else, and women sensed this; so they got women."

There are so many others I could have had a status update twice a page just to share them all on this site. But I have to let you, my readers, have some of the fun of finding these yourself, right? (i.e. READ THIS BOOK!) But what makes the writing in this book such a marvel isn't merely a matter of the diction and cadence and rhythm of it all (which in of itself is impressive enough), but because of the very stylistically informal way Martin Amis narrates this novel. Because it is Martin Amis, at least that is who the narrator claims to be) who is telling us this whole sordid tale. And Martin Amis is wise to keep us somewhat removed from the action so that we can keep everything in perspective. He manages this by interjecting the story throughout with little tidbits about astronomy and other celestial physics so that we the readers can realize just how little (or much) significance all of this feuding between Richard and Gwyn matters.

...but then again, maybe Martin Amis is wrong about all of this. Physics and astronomy, and even math for that matter, are all essentially guesswork. These are all just theories and speculations, albeit good enough ones for us to transport human beings in metal cans from the moon and back, but still their very nature is uncertain. Because the thing of it is, scientists, like authors, are just trying to take in as much information as they can and weave it into something that makes sense, something we can all agree upon-a linear narrative with a beginning and an end that will comfort and reassure us all. The only problem is that, most of the time, "there is the Information, which is nothing, and comes at night."

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